THE Central North top four is in for a bit of a shake-up, with Gunnedah, Moree, Inverell and Walcha engaged in battle with each other today.
Competition leader Gunnedah heads to Walcha for what will be a severe examination from the fourth-placed Rams, while the Bulls host the Highlanders in a second v third contest.
There is only six points separating all four and any number of scenarios could eventuate depending on results, with Narrabri and Pirates good chances of working their way into the four if the top two get up and they pick up the points in their respective clashes.
Both are expected to, playing the bottom two sides – Narrabri against Tamworth and Pirates versus Quirindi.
The Bulls have charged impressively through the first four rounds – notching big wins over Tamworth, Scone and Quirindi and pipping Walcha, and are looking forward to the challenge the Highlanders will present.
“It’s again a test of where we’re at,” Bulls coach Jamie Hardman said.
So far the Rams have been their only real test but Hardman wasn’t too worried.
He said the Walcha win should serve them well for the tight contest he is expecting.
“It certainly showed we can hang in there for 80 minutes,” he said.
Recent seasons they probably wouldn’t have ground out a win like they did, snatching the points at the death.
The Highlanders are a bit of an unknown but from what he’s heard, Hardman is expecting them to be pretty big and pretty physical, and pretty hard to crack
“I don’t think Inverell have had many tries scored against them. They might have had one or two so obviously their defence is pretty good,” he said.
“On the other side they’ve leaked a fair few penalties.”
The Bulls’ own defence has been impressive and they have conceded the least points in the competition.
“Our defence is something we’ve been working on and our realigning in defence,” Hardman said.
It’s been getting there but isn’t quite 100 per cent, although holding Quirindi scoreless last week you’d have to say they went close.
“That was pleasing to keep a side to zero,” Hardman said.
“We only leaked one try against Walcha too.
“Our attack is also starting to shape up well.
Hardman said this week they’d just “been over all the basics again” and just tried to sharpen up a few things, particularly their set pieces.
The Highlanders are coming off a tight win over Narrabri but are bracing for their “biggest game of the year”.
That’s how coach Dave Kearsey was seeing it, especially being away.
“It’s always tough going to Moree and Moree are tracking pretty well at the moment,” Kearsey said.
“Narrabri was a good win but we know we have to lift another level.”
He was wary of the Bulls’ ability to score points, which they showed against Quirindi last week, tallying 17 tries, and said defensively they will have to make sure they muscle up.
“Our defence needs to be spot on. We need to contain their key tryscorers,” Kearsey said.
That’s what they’ve concentrated on, along with their discipline.
“A bit of ill-discipline crept into our game again,” Kearsey said.
“We gave them (Narrabri) 21 points in penalties.”
“We’ve discussed that and hopefully we won’t repeat it.”
He said it was important they get the technical things right and play smart.
“Against quality teams like Moree you’ve got to play smart rugby or they’ll punish you,” he said.