The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs courtesy of a giant-killing run and Cessnock Goannas are both firmly in contention for the Newcastle Rugby League finals.
The Bulldogs defeated Macquarie Scorpions 18-16 through a Kade Hardy penalty goal with four minutes to go at Kurri Kurri Sportsground on Saturday.
The Goannas went down 34-24 to reigning premiers Lakes United at Cahill Oval but little can be read into the result with Cessnock missing four key players including halfback Liam Foran who pulled out with illness on the morning before the game.
The injury-hit Goannas showed their potent scoring powers with four tries, including a hat-trick by Josh Dimmock for the second week in a row.
The result leaves Cessnock in fifth, one competition point ahead of Kurri Kurri, who for second week in a row staged a come-from behind win to beat the top of the table team after last week’s thrilling 20-16 win against Lakes United.
Both teams have their destiny in the their own hands and both can make the finals with the remaining five rounds featuring clashes between the top six teams – Lakes, Macquarie, South Newcastle, Western Suburbs and the Coalfields duo.
There was a sense of inevitability about the Bulldogs victory on Saturday despite trailing for most of the match.
Their forward pack ground down the Scorpions and halves Terence Seu Seu and Mitch Cullinen kept Macquarie on the back foot with astute kicking in the second half.
“They’re starting to believe in themselves – it’s nice,” Bulldogs coach Phil Williams said.
“It was a slugfest, an arm wrestle. Basically survival. They’re building themselves into games which is beautiful.
“There are seven teams looking over their shoulder nervously about playing us.”
The Bulldogs face a game against the top of the table team for the third week in a row, with Lakes leap-frogging the Scorpions to lead the ladder, with Souths and Wests in third and fourth.
“She’s on again next week,” Williams said of the Bulldogs home game against Lakes
“We haven’t had to travel, but to beat the top team on the ladder for two weeks in a row is pretty good.”
The Bulldogs win was a team performance, but Williams did reserve praise for lock Ben Wyborn, hooker Corey Holman and fullback Ethan Niszczot.
Nisczczot and Holman were both outstanding, but Wyborn was clearly best on ground with several breaks and strong defence at lock as well as setting up Kurri’s second try with a clever kick which halfback Terence Seu Seu gleefully pounced on.
“Ben Wyborn has been sensational for four or five weeks. He is pretty good in what he does. He gives us another dimension from lock. He is just a rugby league players,” Williams said
“Corey is a footballer, he is an energiser. He does what you want when you want it. They targetted him. Last week he made 49 tackles. This week he didn’t play the first 20 minutes and he has probably made 45 tackles.
“He gets spotted in the defensive line, but he’s all heart. There are moments in games where people stand up and he stood up.”
Williams highlighted Niszczot’s efforts during his half-time address.
“His enthusiasm, it shouldn’t be an 18-year-old leading the way but he did,” he said.
“He still could be playing under 19s. He is a damn fine rugby league player.
“They peppered him, they put him under the pump, but there’s no fear with him. He is pretty good with the ball on the deck, high balls and he attacks the ball all of the time.”
Cessnock are hopeful key trio centre Marvin Filipo, five-eight Brett Stevens and front-rower Robert Tuliatu will be available for selection in the next week or two with a game at home against Mailtland followed by an away fixture against Wests.
The Goannas were without all three and halfback Foran who was a late withdrawal with illness. They ended with two men on the bench with further injuries during the match.
Coach Dan Smailes said frailties in the Goannas goal-line defence surfaced again and would be a focus of training this week.
“It’s been a problem a few times this season. We deal with it and then it surfaces again a few weeks later,” he said.
“We were down on personnel and had to play a few boys out of position. Brent Mendyk filled in at halfback and was one of our best.
“Josh Dimmock was terrific again. He got another three tries virtually in the same manner as last week, quick darts from close across the line.
“At one stage I heard them call him out in their defensive line, but they still couldn’t stop him.”
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