THE first round under the new two-tier structure draws to a close this weekend but while the top four in both appears settled the fight for positions is still very much still alive.
Especially in the top tier where Pirates, Narrabri and Moree seem to be swapping positions on a weekly basis.
Gunnedah too has thrown its hat into the ring to host a semi after its stunning 33-21 upset over Moree on Saturday.
It took the Red Devils to within six points of the third-placed Bulls and gives them a shot at getting into the top three – mathematically anyway.
Reality is a bit of a different story and co-coach Tim Walsh is resigned to finishing fourth.
That will put them on the road for the finals, which adds even more credibility to the win over the Bulls.
“We had to prove to ourselves that we can not only beat one of those three, but do it away,” Walsh said.
He felt the win highlighted how far they had come.
After producing their best 40 minutes of football to set up 20-nil half-time lead, they then had to withstand a second half Bull rush.
At one stage the home side scored three tries in about five minutes.
“That game and the Inverell game, they’re games we would have lost last year,” he said.
He said it showed to him there’s a bit more guts there. They were also playing more as a team.
But there’s no room for getting too carried away, there’s another big test around the corner.
That for the Red Devils is newly-installed competition leaders Pirates.
It will be a tough assignment with Pirates knocking over Narrabri and then backing up with a good win over Inverell last week.
They were also convincing victors when the sides last met.
Both sides head in with injury issues.
The Red Devils have lost outside centre Scott Mitchell, potentially for the season with a broken arm.
It’s “very long odds” he’ll be back.
Fullback James Perrett and breakaway Jeremy Brown are also doubtful starters on Saturday.
Brown is having an MRI on his knee after hurting it during the first half.
Pirates’ injury crisis meanwhile has deepened with outside centre Jake Douglas forced from the field against the Highlanders with a neck injury.
“The X-rays showed pretty severe trauma to the muscles around the neck,” Pirates co-coach Andrew Verrell said.
“He’s very stiff and sore.”
He hasn’t been ruled out but Verrell is reluctant to let him play.
They’ll also be missing breakaway Josh Stewart.
He’s got commitments with NSW Country in Adelaide.
Pirates hold the lead by a point over the Blue Boars, who return from the break with a trip to Inverell.
In tier two Scone and Tamworth look set to battle it out for second with Walcha having top spot seemingly locked up.
The Rams are 15 points clear of the Brumbies and Magpies, who are both on 23 points.