GUNNEDAH and Inverell sealed top five spots with shut-out wins on Saturday.
The Red Devils accounted for Tamworth 38-nil at Gunnedah while the Highlanders, who were the side in most danger, beat Quirindi 48-nil.
The win ensured they can’t be overtaken regardless of what happens next week against the Red Devils.
In what would have to be a rare occurence, all five of the winning sides didn’t concede a point, with Moree pummelling Scone 50-nil at Moree.
The Brumbies’ hopes of making the five were slim at best but that result put paid to them.
The Bulls blew them away in the first half, opening up a 38-nil lead at the break.
At Gunnedah, it was the opposite story, with the Red Devils kicking away in the second half after only being up 12-nil at half-time.
The Highlanders, like the Bulls, did the damage in the first half and went into half-time up 31-nil.
“It was really hard to keep our structure against them.
“We had a few problems with that,” Highlanders coach Scott Bremner said.
“But we didn’t let in any tries.
“I was happy with that.”
They had to do their share of defending, despite what the scoreline might indicate.
“Quirindi refused to kick it,” Bremner said. “They played ball in hand all game.”
“Our fellas had to defend a lot. They (Quirindi) recycled well.”
With Hunter Barnett away with the Country 19s, Bremner decided to move Michael Schneider in from the wing to inside centre.
“He was awesome,” Bremner said.
“His defence was brutal.”
The players thought he was great there too, with Schneider judged the players’ player to go with the club and zone three points.
He just shaded centre partner Chad Makim for the points, with Makim picking up the two.
Both also got on the scoresheet.
The Highlanders had seven different tryscorers for their eight tries, with number eight Amanaki Pakalani crossing twice.
The Lions were coming off a couple of wallopings and performed a lot better, coach Grant Batty said.
“We were better,” he said.
Pakalini and Siaka Meae at breakaway have been terrorising sides in recent weeks and were both outstanding, Batty thought.
They made a big difference.
The Lions can’t seem to buy any luck when it comes to injuries and again had several out but, as they have been doing, hung in there.
“You can’t deny their effort. They do keep trying for the 80 minutes,” Batty said.
He thought breakaway James Davidson and centre Sam Lehman were two of his better players.