The return of Luke Sherwood and a marathon effort from Ben Ham have helped Wanderers remain Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union unbeaten leaders with a 26-18 win over The Waratahs at Waratah Oval on Saturday.
After an early exchange of penalties, Tahs player-coach Carl Manu scored in the 12th minute to give the hosts an 8-3 lead. They extended the advantage in the 18th minute with another Joel Ford penalty kick.
Luke Simmons landed a penalty in the 20th minute then converted after Sherwood burrowed over in the 32nd minute to put the visitors 13-11 ahead.
Lock Doug McKillop scored in the 38th minute and Simmons’ conversion gave Wanderers a 20-11 half-time lead.
Two more Wanderers penalties gave them a 26-11 edge in the 54th minute but the Waratahs threatened a comeback when giant loose-head prop Talanoa Taufaao crashed over five minutes later.
The Tahs, though, were unable to break the Two Blues again.
Wanderers coach Viv Paasi said Ham and Sherwood were standouts up against the imposing Tahs pack.
“Ben Ham had to work all week so he played second grade, but then he ended up having to come on five, 10 minutes into the game,” Paasi said.
“He ended up playing 150 minutes of footy today and he was one of our best in first grade so that says a fair bit about what sort of player he is and what he brings to the team.
“It was Luke Sherwood’s first game in first grade this year. He’s taken a step back this year but he played on the side for us and got three Anderson Medal points, so he was really good for us and so was Bailey Hefren. Our back row were standouts and halfback Nathan Sherwood was strong as well.”
Paasi was proud of the effort to hold out the Tahs after going with a more mobile pack.
“We had to get into the grind a little bit today and conditions kind of played into that,” he said.
“It was a good win, because they are a top-five team and it was definitely a good challenge for us.
“It was a pretty brutal contest in the sense that they have some big guys and we had to really stand up.
“We had a smaller forward pack today, especially in our back row, and everyone had to stand up and make sure we got good ball for our backs.
“I think our forwards worked well. We could have been better in patches but we definitely showed some good composure when the game was in the balance. We were just able to hold our line, which was good.”
Elsewhere in round seven, winger Ratu Delanimate scored twice as second-placed Hamilton edged out Southern Beaches 24-22, Merewether Carlton’s Matt Hay also grabbed a double as they beat Lake Macquarie 36-17, Maitland defeated University 24-18 and Nelson Bay downed Singleton 39-12.