Inspired by a quick-fire treble from try-scoring sensation Charlie Henley and a rampant second-half performance, Orange Emus blew Cowra off Endeavour Oval on Saturday afternoon, running away with a dominant, 53-12 win in the second-versus-third match-up.
Since joining the greens from Woollahra Colleagues about a third of the way through this year's Blowes Clothing Cup Henley's crossed the stripe 12 times in just nine games, his three-try effort on Saturday afternoon pushing his season tally to the dozen mark.
All three came in the early stages of Saturday's round 13 clash and led Emus to a 27-12 lead at the half-time break, they built on that in the second period too by running in another 26 unanswered points to romp to an eighth consecutive bonus-point win.
We're definitely getting closer to where we want to be, but we can still improveEmus centre Lachie Harris
Lachie Harris and Nigel Staniforth also crossed for braces in the easy win, which officially locks the greens into a top two finish, that brings with it a guaranteed home final at some stage and also a crucial second chance in the post-season.
Henley actually pushed ahead of Harris in terms of Emus' try-scorers with the triple, although the latter's 11 five-pointers have also come at a rapid rate in the same amount of games.
Harris lauded the bullocking front-rower's astounding ability to cross the stripe after Saturday's win too, before saying his greens still have improvement in them.
"It was good to pile on a few points at the end and we're definitely getting closer to where we want to be, but we can still improve in terms of playing for the entire 80 minutes," Harris said.
"We still had a couple of lapses, early too. The same as it was last week against Dubbo, Cowra scored really early and it took that to kick us into gear I think, but it's a good win for sure."
Emus' win combined with Bathurst Bulldogs' bonus-point victory over Forbes sets up a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash at Anne Ashwood Park next week.
With Bulldogs six points in front of Emus the minor premiership will all but go on the line, although it's a game Harris will actually miss as a result of the NSW Country Cockatoos' weekend-long training camp.
"That'll be a big game, an interesting one I reckon. We haven't beaten them down there for a couple of years and they're a good side, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. I've got confidence the boys will get the job done," he said.
In a clash that former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns was eagerly watching from the Endeavour Oval sideline, Cowra's Bryce McKinnon crossed in the early stages and Garrizo Gonzalo converted, giving the Eagles a first-up, 7-nil lead.
Henley immediately bustled his way over, then did it again, and again to give Emus a 17-7 lead, before McKinnon grabbed his second to cut the gap to five.
There wasn't much joy for the visiting side after that though, they didn't score again.
Harris and Staniforth both crossed late in the opening half to extend Emus' lead, although the latter's boot was wayward in the opening 40 minutes, he kicked one of five before the break.
Both scored again after the break while reserves Al Hattersley and Jack Marchinton both crossed in the dying stages as well. Harris made a point of lauding his side's bench, particularly at the set-piece.
"Our scrum was pretty dominant today from the word go and when the boys rolled off the bench nothing changed, which was great because it's awesome for us backs to run off a scrum going forward," Harris said, with Kearns at one point also exclaiming "woah that's a dominant scrum" from behind Emus' bench.
"All the guys that come on know our patterns and they know their roles, we've got a lot of depth and it's great to know you've got those guys there who will do the job when they need to."
Cowra skipper Tim Berry lamented his side's performance, particularly in the crucial period directly after half-time.
"We still had a sniff at half-time and we spoke about coming out after that and being dominant, I think it was Emus that did that rather than us," Berry said.
"They're a good side and we kept pace with them for a little while but we just weren't able to reel them in, we'll have to go back and look at what we're doing at training on Tuesday and improve."
The loss was Cowra's second on the trot after being upset by Forbes last week, and with Dubbo Kangaroos hammering Orange City it puts their hope of a home elimination final at risk.
They're now just six points clear of the fourth-placed Roos.
"We've still got two weeks to try and secure that, it is disappointing but we'll go back, work hard and try and make sure we secure that next weekend when we play [Roos]."
Outside his wayward boot Staniforth was magnificent for Emus, as was second-rower Sam McLean, while Berry and five-eighth Bill Cummins shone for the defeated side.
- ORANGE EMUS 53 (Charlie Henley 3, Lachie Harris 2, Nigel Staniforth 2, Al Hattersley, Jack Marchinton tries; Staniforth 4 conversions) def COWRA EAGLES 12 (Bryce McKinnon 2; Garrizo Gonzalo conversion)
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