IN what many Group 10 pundits would deem moving round in this year’s premiership, Orange Hawks have dug deep to secure a pivotal 29-22 victory over a determined Blayney Bears.
While the two blues notched up win number seven in a row on Sunday at Wade Park, the second-placed Bathurst St Pat’s went down 23-22 to the eighth-placed Oberon.
Cowra edged out Mudgee. The 25-22 scoreline was the Dragons’ third consecutive loss after winning 10 straight games to begin 2014.
At the Bathurst Sportsground, Panthers downed another top five team, edging out CYMS 18-10.
The string of upsets resulted each of the top three sides losing last weekend, and propels Hawks up into fourth on the Group 10 ladder.
Just four competition points now separates first and fifth.
Arguably the form team of the competition, Hawks’ uninspiring seven-point victory over the Bears now sets up Tim Mortimer’s side for an assault on the top three, starting with next Sunday’s blockbuster against Cowra at Wade Park.
WATCH OUR INTERVIEWS WITH TIM MORTIMER AND TERAWHITI COOPER:
“If we can knock them off it then holds them up in another step ahead of us,” Mortimer said, fresh off the plane after a three-week absence visiting family in France.
“We’re really trying to climb our way up the ladder now and trying to improve every week leading into the finals. There’s been a few upsets lately, if we can keep winning we’ll keep climbing our way back up.”
And Sunday’s match could very well have been another of those upsets.
Hawks gave Blayney every chance to win the round 14 clash.
The Bears dominated the opening half and went into the sheds up 14-10 after tries to Jesse Nixon, Terawhiti Cooper and Jake Crooks.
Just four minutes into the second half, the visitors extended their advantage to eight after Western Division star Josh Rainbow barged his way over out wide to stretch the Bears’ lead out to 18-10.
But converted tries to Keegan Harding and then Jared Brodrick edged the hosts to a 22-18 lead with just over a quarter of the match to play.
And it was an eventful quarter.
Bears captain-coach Cooper found himself in the sin bin for dissent, a 10-minute period in which Blayney locked up the scores thanks to Rainbow’s second four-pointer of the afternoon.
With six minutes to go Hawks knocked back a gift two points that would have handed them back the lead, but instead used that set of six to set up a Keegan Harding field goal to edge 23-22 in front with just four minutes remaining.
A try right at the death to Mortimer sealed the result, albeit an ugly one.
“I wasn’t too happy with the way we played, but an ugly win is better than a gallant loss,” Mortimer conceded.
“We got the points, which is the big thing. It’s back to the drawing board a little bit. We’ll have to change a few things, just our attitude, it wasn’t there from the warm up. It showed on the park.”
Goal-kicking cruelled Blayney, with just one of the Bears’ five tries converted.
A mountain for the Bears up front, Cooper lamented his side’s missed opportunity.
“It always comes down to attitude,” the damaging prop said.
“I might have been guilty of blowing it out of proportion over there, I stick by my reasons, but in saying that I let the boys down. You can’t have one man down, especially in tight games.
“But penalty in a row, penalty in a row, before you know it we’re D-ing up in the last 10 minutes and in football that’s going to do it to you, they’re going to score. Everything is attitude and discipline.”
Speedy fullback Jake Crooks was the best for the visitors, while his Hawks counterpart Joe Lasagavibau was strong alongside winger Alofi Mataele.
ORANGE HAWKS 29 (Tim Mortimer, Jared Brodrick, Keegan Harding, Justin Howarth, Alofi Mataele tries; McGarity 4 goals; Harding field goal) def BLAYNEY BEARS 22 (Josh Rainbow 2, Terawhiti Cooper, Jake Crooks, Jesse Nixon tries; Rainbow goal).