MAITLAND co-coach Mick Hickling is not content for the Blacks to simply mix it with the big boys of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union.
That was 2017. This season he wants more.
The Blacks looked every bit a premiership contender for much of the 47-31 win over Wanderers at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
It was the Blacks second win over last season’s grand finalists, following a 10-9 triumph at Marcellin Park in round two. That win was founded on defence.
Saturday showed they can attack as well tackle. The visitors ran in seven tries and bombed a couple of others.
They feasted on the Two Blues at the break down and once in the opposition quarter, came away with points.
“There were patches where we played some really good footy,” Hickling said. “We stuck to our structure, got ourselves into good field position and then capitalised. We are not just there to compete any more. We are there to win the game. That has to be the mentality: we are not just here to mix it with the big boys, we are here to beat them.”
The Blacks led 19-12 at the break and and stretched the margin to 33-19 midway through the second half. However, the Two Blues hit back with three tries in seven minutes to close to 33-31.
But a turnover and penalty put the Blacks back on the front foot and Carl Manu sliced through from close range to end the revival.
“We got in front and thought we had the game won,” Hickling said. “Our line speed started to drop off and they played some good footy too. Their second last try was good football.”
Up front, Dan Runchel and Willie Soe were strong for the Blacks, Nick Davidson and replacement John Birrell were dominant at the tackle contest and Manu made a big play when it was needed.
“We put a bit of pressure on the pill at they breakdown,” Hickling said. “They set their attacking pods wider which presents an opportunity if we are quick enough to get on the ball. We had blokes tackling outside in, being aggressive and getting over the ball.”
Next for the Blacks are premiers Hamilton, who overpowered a previously unbeaten Merewether 29-17 at Passmore Oval.
“We are still making mistakes coming out of our own end. In really big games and against teams like Wanderers they can really make you pay for that. We were fortunate today that we got away with it. If we give Hamilton that much ball trying to come out of our own end, it will be a concern.”
It was a second straight loss for the Two Blues, who slip to fifth. They were strong at the set piece and scored three spectacular tries from inside their own half.
In the forward Francis Ieremia was everywhere and Noa Taufaao made inroads with every carry.
However the enterprising patches were bought unstuck by slopping ball carries and a lack of urgency at the tackle.
“Too many turnovers carrying the ball when fighting the contact and two many turnovers at the ruck,” coach Darren Young lamented.
Elsewhere Saturday, Nelson Bay moved to third spot after they accounted for Lake Macquarie 41-3 at Walters Park.
Though beaten, it was a much improved performance from the Roos, who were bolstered by the inclusion of former North Harbour Rays Sione Ala and Brian Sefanaia. Lake Macquarie had conceded more than 110 points in each of the four previous games.
Adrian Delore was the star with a double to lead Southern Beaches to a 42-35 triumph over Singleton at Ernie Calland Field, their first win since round five.
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