"Emus just don't lose at Endeavour Oval".
The words of Bathurst Bulldogs coach Dean Oxley, just after full-time in a Blowes Clothing Cup top-of-the-table thriller that went down to the absolute wire, with the greens ultimately prevailing by just two points, winning 26-24.
With that victory, which they had to stifle a Bulldogs fightback to secure, the greens handed the Bathurst side their first defeat of 2019 and also continued their run of misery at fortress Endeavour.
Bulldogs' nine-year winless run at the Orange ground dates back to 2010.
We knew Emus would play that confrontational rugby and they did ... Emus just don't lose at Endeavour Oval.Bulldogs coach Dean Oxley
It took a monumental defensive effort in the dying stages for the greens to secure the win though.
Emus led 19-14 at half-time and extended that to 26-14 after the break, but a Harry Peacock try not long after cut the margin to just a converted try.
Emus skipper Nigel Staniforth had a chance to push that gap to 10 with around eight minutes remaining but missed the 40-metre penalty goal opportunity and after that, the Bathurst side camped in Emus' end.
They won a string of penalties but, trailing by seven, they naturally opted against the kick, preferring to back themselves to score.
They looked to have missed their chance after Emus No.8 Scott McLean won a crucial turnover penalty, but with the final play of the game the Bathurst side did cross, giving themselves a chance to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.
Riley Hanrahan dived over in the corner to score and cut the gap to two, but Ben Sheppeard's conversion was waved away, leaving Emus to breathe a sigh of relief as they collected the 26-24, bonus point win.
Bulldogs also claimed two bonus points though, for scoring four tries and losing by seven or less, and as such Emus only make up three points on the competition leaders.
With that in mind Oxley wasn't too disappointed.
"It's not ideal to lose of course but it's our first of the season and we're still on top, we had a few guys out today but that's not an excuse, it's still all positive because we hung in there and gave ourselves the chance," he said.
"And we knew we'd be coming to Endeavour [on Saturday] for a confrontation, which at half-time we said we loved and we did show that do a degree. We knew Emus would play that confrontational rugby and they did.
"Their forward pack was outstanding and their scrum was excellent, they defended well too. It was a big challenge and one thing we knew coming here is that Emus just don't lose at Endeavour Oval."
Staniforth and Emus coach Pete Bromley both squashed any suggestion extending Bulldogs' winless run at their ground was any sort of motivation, and both heaped praise on their troops' defensive efforts.
The former did say there was still work to be done though.
"We still waited for them to come to us a little bit in that first half, and I'm not really sure why, so we can still improve there," Staniforth said.
"But we've got a great win and gave Bulldogs their first defeat, we showed they're beatable, so we'll definitely be celebrating that one the way we should," Bromley said.
We showed [Bulldogs are] beatable, so we'll definitely be celebrating that one the way we should.Emus coach Pete Bromley
"The most pleasing thing in that performance I think was the final 20 minutes. We were in our own half and we had a few guys come off with injury so we needed our bench to make an impact, which they did."
Tighthead prop Michael Graham crossed for a rare double for the greens while Charlie Henley and Lachie Harris both crossed as well, with Phil Tonkin and Mark Donnelly scoring Bulldogs' other two tries.
Jamil Khalfan produced his strongest performance at five-eighth for the greens while McLean and Nick Hughes-Clapp were both excellent as well.
Peacock continued his rich vein of form with another superb effort from the side of the scrum while Justin Mobbs was once again irresistible in the second-row, cementing his status as the competition's form player again and potentially the favourite for player-of-the-year.
- ORANGE EMUS 26 (Michael Graham 2, Charlie Henley, Lachie Harris tries; Nigel Staniforth 3 conversions) def BATHURST BULLDOGS 24 (Riley Hanrahan, Harry Peacock, Phil Tonkin, Mark Donnelly tries; Ben Sheppeard 2 conversions)
WANT MORE ORANGE AND REGIONAL SPORT?
- Receive our free newsletters delivered to your inbox, as well as breaking news alerts. Sign up below ...