HAMLTON are in the box seat to win a fourth straight Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union minor premiership but the Hawks will have to do it without power-packed hooker Chris Ale.
Ale had surgery on Sunday to have a plate inserted in his right arm after breaking it early in the Hawks’ 29-15 over Nelson Bay at Strong Oval the day before.
Ale suffered the injury attempting to clean out one of the Gropers forwards.
“It is a real shame,” Hamilton coach Chris Coleman said. “His last two games have been the best he has played for us ever. His pre-season wasn’t great. He has just got himself into really good nick and was able to make effort after effort.”
Hamilton are fortunate to have a wealth of quality hookers. Captain and long-time NSW Country hooker Steve Lamont moved from blindside breakaway to cover when Ale left the field.
“Larry (Lamont) is a very good hooker, but Chris gives us something different,” Coleman said. “We put him on an edge and play a different pattern when he is available. He has an off-load and is the type of player who can score a try from 30 metres with five players on his back.”
The win over the Gropers moved the Hawks to the top of the ladder on 45 points, two clear of Wanderers, with five rounds remaining.
If they can maintain that position they will have the first week of the finals off.
“The doctor at the hospital Saturday night said it Chris would be 10 weeks,” Coleman said. “We will get him into a sport physician for a second opinion. Our main focus now is to get the arm right. Then we will get him on a bike and do whatever we can to keep his fitness up in the slight hope we get him back.”
Hamilton, despite losing Ale, dominated the set piece against the Gropers.
The visitors stuck early through No.8 Tom Coupe. Their second try came from a Nelson Bay five metre scrum. The Hawks put on a shove and the ball spouted out the side for Maxwell to ground.
Hamilton were reduced to 13 men for the final eight minutes of the first half when Dane Sharrat (intentional knock down) and Hamish McKie (dangerous play) but held the Gropers to a penalty goal for 17-9 at half-time.
Coleman had high praise for the home side.
“They play for 80 minutes and are very tough,” Coleman said. “They can mix it with anyone and are among the contenders.”
Hamilton now play the bottom four teams before finishing against fierce rivals Wanderers.
“It was a gutsy win on Saturday and they can hold their heads high,” Coleman said. “There were a lot of positive out of it. The biggest positive is that I can still see improvement in us.”
Elsewhere Saturday, prop Leeland Marshall crashed over for two tries as Wanderers accounted for University 30-17 at Bernie Curran Oval.
At Townson Oval, Merewether over-powered Singleton 40-19 to snap a two-game losing run.
Brendan Holliday missed a late penalty as Lake Macquarie and Southern Beaches drew 15-all at Walters Park.
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