Defensive Clinic Earns Blacktown Top Spot
The Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles find themselves at the top of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW ladder for the first time in the club's history, following a 28-16 victory over the Newtown Jets at HE Laybutt Fields.
Numerous dropped balls featured in the first half, with points coming on the back of errors on several occasions. The second stanza, however, saw Blacktown put on a defensive show in front of their home fans, holding the Jets scoreless - and at one stage, completing six defensive sets on their own line while hooker Manase Fainu was in the sin bin.
Major inclusions for the Sea Eagles included fullback Honeti Tuha, centres John Folau and Matthew Wright and Taniela Paseka, who crossed for a first-half double, while the Jets welcomed Aaron Gray and Kurt Dillon from the Sharks' NRL squad. Tuha and Folau were both strong for the home side, but all players impressed defensively to secure the second consecutive win for Blacktown.
Labelling the Jets' start to the game an error-riddled one would be an understatement, with the visitors wasting no time in coming up with costly errors. It began with Jesse Marschke putting down the kick-off, with Blacktown making an error of their own moments later. With their second opportunity, Matt Evans turned the ball over - and this time the Sea Eagles made no mistake. John Folau muscled his way over out wide, ensuring a horror opening three minutes for Newtown.
The errors continued for both sides; first Marschke sent the restart dead on the full, before Jack Gosiewski and Jade Anderson each had fumbles for the Sea Eagles. It was soon Newtown's turn for attacking ball, with the visitors converting the opportunity via Braden Uele; the front-rower took a short ball from Blayke Brailey to score.
Despite dry conditions in Sydney's West, the handling errors kept coming and extended periods of possession seemed likely to bring point. That was the case minutes later, when Taniela Paseka found himself on the scoresheet after Blacktown successfully pinned Newtown down their own end. With Matthew Wright's conversion, the score was 10-6 in the Sea Eagles' favour.
When Blacktown found himself in good field possession, Paseka was again the man to score - albeit thanks to some good fortune. A Tom Wright grubber was fumbled by Will Kennedy, with Paseka pouncing on the loose ball to score.
Luck didn't play a part in the Sea Eagles' next try, with Jade Anderson producing a piece of individual brilliance to make matters worse for the Jets. The winger left Kennedy, Kyle Flanagan and Edrick Lee for dead with a big right-foot step to race away for the home side. The ensuing kick-off was once again sent dead by the Jets, with the problem snowballing for Newtown late in the first half.
Honeti Tuha looked to have extended the Sea Eagles' lead further when he received an inside ball from Tom Wright and got into space, but the pass was ruled forward by referee Tim Roby. Anthony Moraitis then made Blacktown pay with a good play down the left-hand edge for Newtown; after exploiting an overlap to find space, Moraitis sent it wide to Kennedy, who returned soon after for a good team try.
An energised Jets side was looking much stronger late in the half - and an Edrick Lee try put them in good spirits heading into the break. In classic Lee fashion, the Newtown winger leapt above the pack to take a Kyle Flanagan bomb, scoring on the stroke of half-time. The conversion was waved away but the Jets were within striking distance; the Sea Eagles led 20-16 at the game's midway point.
The second stanza started much slower than the first, with both sides showing improved efforts defensively and in holding the football. It took nine minutes for Newtown to be handed a golden opportunity when Blacktown hooker Manase Fainu was sin-binned for slowing down the play-the-ball, but a Jets knock-on meant the visitors could not capitalise.
The Sea Eagles were asked to defend their line on two occasions when reduced to 12 men, successfully doing so before posting points of their own. Tuha made light work of two would-be defenders en route to the try line, scoring a relatively soft try in the 54th minute.
With a lead of 10 points and once again having 13 men on the field, Blacktown were in a strong position with a quarter of the game remaining - but they extended the difference to two converted tries with a Joey Lussick penalty goal.
The Jets continued to throw all they had at the Sea Eagles' line, but the opposition defence continued to hold strong. The effort displayed by Steve Hales' men was epitomised when Matt Evans went within centimetres of scoring, only to be shoved into touch by Jonathan Wright. With the 12-point deficit remaining as the game reached its final five minutes, the mountain would prove too big to climb for the Jets.
Kennedy was soon dragged down to earth after also coming close to scoring, but the Jets would ultimately be held to nil in the second stanza; Blacktown finished the game 28-16 winners.