They may only have the one win next to their name so far this season, but the Singleton Bulls have been turning heads.
Taking it to last year’s grand finalists in consecutive weeks, leading both Hamilton and Wanderers at half-time, shows the men in black and red are no longer the competition easybeats.
It has been a tough return to the Newcastle Hunter Rugby Union premier grades.
Last winter the Bulls didn’t sing the team song at all and have tasted victory just three times in as many seasons, collecting two wooden spoons, since promotion in 2015 from a two-year second-division stint.
The combined for-and-against record during those three years was -1739 with an average losing margin of 33.44 points from 52 appearances.
But the 2018 campaign, under new head coach and Singleton’s favourite son former Wallaby halfback Steve Merrick, has already been a marked improvement.
In four outings the Bulls have a 1-3 win-loss record with a for-and-against reading of +5, sharing sixth spot on the ladder with nine points. This includes five bonus points – four times scoring four tries in a single game and once finishing within seven of the victor.
“Just the guys standing up,” Merrick said.
“We pretty well get outweighed in the forwards every week so we’re working on technique to make sure it’s 100 per cent. Our backs are going well, they are pretty sharp.
“But the main thing is, the guys have got the ticker, they’re ripping in.”
Much of the Bulls’ spark against Lake Macquarie (61-17), Southern Beaches (28-44), Wanderers (27-33) and Hamilton (25-38) has come from rookie No.9 Cooper Harris.
“Our nine has only played about seven games of rugby, but he’s electric,” Merrick said.
“He’s a local boy with a league background and he’s going really well.”
This weekend Singleton want to make the most of their home-ground advantage against unbeaten Merewether Carlton at Rugby Park but Merrick, ever the clubman, knows the challenge ahead.
“It’s going to be a hard one for us, but every one is. We just need to keep improving, keep our standards up and cut down our errors,” Merrick said.
“Our thirds are travelling well, they’re undefeated. Merewether’s twos are at the top of the tree so that will be a big contest and same with the ones actually.”
Elsewhere in Saturday’s fifth-round encounters and at No.2 Sportsground the Brad Nichols Shield will be up for grabs when third-placed Wanderers host University, three-time defending champions Hamilton are at home against leaders Nelson Bay at Passmore Oval while winless Lake Macquarie are away to Southern Beaches at Ernie Calland Field. Maitland has the bye.
LADDER: Nelson Bay 14; Merewether Carlton 13; Wanderers 12; Hamilton 11; Maitland 10; University, Singleton, Southern Beaches 9; Lake Macquarie 0.
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