The Greater Northern Tigers men produced an almost perfect first half of football to stun the Newcastle Maitland Knights 34-12 in their opening round Country Championships clash at Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday.
The Brad McManus-coached Tigers never looked back after a brilliant piece of work by lock Daniel Hoogerwerf after just five minutes.
The Aberdeen captain-coach, normally a hooker, stepped his way through the Knights defence close to the line to shock the home side and give the Tigers an early reward for a good start.
The smaller Tigers pack started the game well, giving as good as they got in the heavy skirmishes in the middle of the park.
Tigers hooker Jake Hawkins - former Storm, Sharks and Dragons signing - gave away a penalty and was placed on report for a tackle gone wrong.
While he zeroed in on his Knights opponent, his scything tackle was deemed high. The penalty was a slight setback, but the effort showed the intent and desire of the Tigers pack to stop their bigger opponents.
It was something the rest of the Tigers fed off - with Hawkins, the Singleton captain-coach, soon producing a grubber for Dungowan back-rower Brett Jarrett to ground the ball in-goal.
Muswellbrook halfback Scott Briggs converted both tries for a 12-0 lead.
His Muswellbrook Rams teammate, Brady Benkovic, had an outstanding match and crashed over from short range after 26 minutes.
Benkovic had been pushed up into the front-row following the loss of starting prop Adam Grew through the week, and was close to his side's best.
When Briggs put up a bomb in the 35th minute, it seemed almost too good to be true that it bobbled out of the Knights defender's hands and into Gunnedah centre Reece Jaegers' path. He dived on the loose ball for an unconverted try and a 22-0 half-time lead.
That set up the 34-12 win but not until the Tigers had weathered a 20-minute interrogation from the Knights as they crossed for two tries and threatened to add more.
However that tension was eased when Tigers five-eighth and captain Scott Blanch's simple inside ball created space for Jaeger to score his second try from short range 27 minutes into the second stanza.
And then the Tigers wrapped it up with a brilliant piece of play from Briggs, Hawkins and Blanch.
Briggs and Hawkins kept the ball alive on the last tackle before Blanch produced his familiar jinking, stepping runs to cross under the posts seven minutes from full-time.
Coach McManus was on a high after the stunning away win. He did not expect the side to start so well, let alone win so dominantly. He was hoping his side "would turn up and have a dig for each other".
"I never thought we'd be that far in front at half-time," he said of the 22-point lead.
"We dug a bit of a hole for ourselves with some penalties and mistakes but everything went their way too," he said of the Knights fightback. It was 22-12 at one stage.
"We lost Hawko [Hawkins] to the bin as well. That didn't help. But the boys fought back too," he continued.
"I was really happy with our defence, especially in the first half when we kept them to nil. They did get a run of penalties early in the second half, too, but we straightened the ship."
He thought Benkovic was outstanding, moving up to prop and delivering great minutes throughout the match.
"Daniel Hoogerwerf got our players player award," McManus said. "He was part of our winning pack. They were all great.
"The Werris Creek boys, Harlee Millgate (centre) and Kieren Williams (winger) were outstanding too. I was real happy with them."
The two Magpies might not have featured on the scoreboard but made plenty of ground in attack and their defence was unbreachable.
"Brett Jarrett was great too. He's a good footballer," McManus said of the Tigers under-16 coach.
The swarming defence of the smaller Tiger players was a feature all game. It would have impressed great Northern Division coach Frank Fish, who spearheaded a Country Championships win in 1989, and a win over Great Britain at Scully Park in 1988, with a similar team vibe.
TIGERS 34 (Reece Jaeger 2, Daniel Hoogerwerf, Brett Jarrett, Brady Benkovic, Scott Blanch tries; Scott Briggs 5 con) d KNIGHTS 12 (Dyllan Parlane, Boston Smith tries; Kendyll Fahey 2 cons)
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
- Bookmark northerndailyleader.com.au
- Make sure you are signed up for our breaking and regular headlines newsletters
- Follow us on Twitter
- Follow us on Instagram
- Follow us on Google News