The St Marys Saints stayed in the Sydney Shield top four when they edged out the Hills District Bulls 32-28 in the main match of the split Round 10 at Crestwood Reserve, Baulkham Hills last Sunday.
It was a matter of how many for the Saints early, as centre Urima Toomalatai burst out of the blocks with two tries – one from a Blake Milgate pass and the other from a high crossfield kick – to give St Marys at 12-nil lead after just six minutes.
The Bulls struck back when fullback Siona Tonga scored from a Saints turnover to bring the deficit back to just six points after nine minutes with his own conversion.
The Bulls then levelled scores when lock Josh Shepherd finished a left side movement in the 15th minute.
The first-half tryfest continued when St Marys winger Peter Scanlan finished a nest blind side play in the corner for 16-12, before Hills District regained the lead when centre Jordan Tongahai made his way through the Saints cover for Tonga to convert and the Bulls to lead 18-16.
The Saints weren’t done yet before the break. Back rower Phil Salevao made the most of a Bulls turnover three minutes from half-time to score. Gordon Toomalatai landed his third conversion for the half to give the visitors a 22-18 lead at the break.
St Marys came out on fire to start the second half. Winger John Tuliatu got through token defence out wide 60 seconds after the restart, before Urima Toomalatai completed his hat-trick of tries just three minutes later.
Gordon Toomalatai’s conversion extended the Saints’ lead to 32-18 and a runaway win was on the cards.
To their credit, the Bulls slowly worked their way back into field position and got rewarded with second- rower Nick Betar scored wide out to reduce the deficit to 10 points.
Then Bulls winger Meli Katia completed a left sided raid with 18 minutes left to bring the scores back to 32-28 with plenty of time left.
As both sides upped the ante in defence – Tongahai’s brutal defence for the Bulls countered by some big hits by Saints skipper Dean Zammit up front being highlights – neither side could score in those last 18 minutes.
The Bulls had one last chance in the final two minutes to pull the game out of the fire, but turned the ball over deep in attack to allow the Saints to hang on for a vital victory that kept them in Sydney Shield top four.
In the other game over the split weekend, the Belrose Eagles returned to the winner's list - but not without incident as they eventually trounced the hapless Asquith Magpies 42-nil at Lionel Watts Reserve last Friday night.
Belrose - minus Captain/Coach James Mortimer - looked to be in for an easy night when debutant winger Justin Abou-Melh scored two tries inside the first 12 minutes for a 12-nil lead.
Then Belrose really struggled for the rest of the first half as their errors – and Asquith's best first half of the Sydney Shield season – put a directionless Belrose under real pressure.
The match exploded with a brawl in the 16th minute when Belrose prop Erza Howe and Asquith second-rower Daniel Carlson were sin-binned for 10 minutes for fighting.
Belrose continued to give away penalties in their frustration.
As a result, referee Darian Furner had to give stand in skipper Dave Marando a general caution in the 25th minute - warning that the next penalty given away by Belrose would result in someone being sin-binned again.
As this caution was being given, Howe and Carlson were returning from the sin bin.
Sure enough from the penalty after the caution, Howe never got back the required 10 metres from the Asquith tap kick and made a tackle from a blatantly offside position.
This forced referee Furner to send Howe to the sin bin for an incredible second time in the half. Eventually, Belrose got to half-time with a 12-nil lead.
Belrose came out on fire to start of the second half and struck immediately when interchange forward Marcel Ferris scored two minutes after the restart to make it 18-nil.
Fullback Christian Bate and centre Alex Franklin put the match beyond doubt with two tries in three minutes midway through the half, from simple backline movements to extend the lead to 30-nil.
Howe capped off a remarkable night with a barging try with six minutes left, before replacement back Alex Zarounas finished the night with a 25 metre solo try in the last two minutes to complete the 42-nil win.
Stand in Belrose halfback Tom Collins had a perfect night with the boot - landing seven goals from seven attempts.
This weekend sees the remaining five games in the split round being played – with three matches on Saturday and two on Sunday.
The young Guildford Owls outfit test their Shield credentials against competition leaders Mounties on Sunday at McCredie Park in the pick of the weekend match ups.
Triple H FM covers the Intrust Super Premiership this weekend with the derby from North Sydney Oval this Sunday from 3pm between the North Sydney Bears and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
All the Sunday action can be heard on 100.1FM, via live streaming at www.triplehfm.com.au, or on the TuneIn app.