INVERELL forced its way back into the top five reckoning with a gutsy 13-point win over Tamworth at Tamworth Rugby Park on Saturday.
The Highlanders had to play the whole second half down a player after hooker Rhys Graham was red-carded for stomping in the final few minutes of the first half, and stave off what is becoming a typical second-half uprising from the home side, but held on to win 47-34.
“I don’t care that they scored 34 points, I’m just happy that we won,” Highlanders coach Scott Bremner said.
Their delight was doubled when the news filtered through that Walcha had beaten Scone.
That, on bonus points, put them ahead of the Brumbies.
Saturday was a frenetic game at times.
At one stage in the first half the Highlanders scored three tries in about five minutes.
That was where they set the game up – turning a 3-nil deficit into a 21-3 lead by midway through the first half.
“The first half we played some great football,” Bremner said.
They scored some really good team tries, which was the most pleasing thing.
“We bounced through their defence and the support was there,” he said.
The tone was set in the opening minutes, with both sides either denied or disallowed a try.
The first points eventually came through Magpies hooker Adam Penman’s boots but were quickly negated with half-back Scott Houston crossing for the first of the Highlanders’ seven tries.
Three minutes later they were in again, fullback Jeremy Pilcher doing the finishing after some flimsy defence from the Magpies had allowed the Highlanders to get in behind them and left space out wide.
Breakaway Siaki Maea was then on the tail of a spectacular length-of-the-field effort.
Chancing their arm out of their 22, they found Tom Scotton in a bit of space out on the wing. He then pushed off some soft Magpies defence and had three or four options inside.
The Magpies stemmed the flow, with Harry Veitch plucking an intercept and racing 60m away to score but it was short-lived, with the Highlanders exposing the Magpies’ defensive frailties again and scoring from another breakout inside their half.
This time it was Tala Vea on the end. He bagged a second not long after to tighten their stranglehold on the game.
As has been the way this season though, the Magpies came out a different side in the second half and, after centre Kieran McHugh had scored late in the first half to give them some hope, through skipper Rhys Duncan and winger Geoff Smith they closed the gap to eight points less than 10 minutes in.
But the Highlanders scored two quick tries to pull away again.
It was an all too familiar story for the Magpies.
“We were in that first half at certain stages but our one-on- one tackles were terrible,” co-coach Ross Duncan said.
“Once they’re in behind you, Inverell have showed all season they can score points.”