HAMILTON coach Scott Coleman praised the defensive resolve of the Hawks after they held on for a rugged 34-21 win over Maitland at Passmore Oval on Saturday.
The premiers had scored 164 points in their two previous wins at home, but they were given a stern test by an under-manned Blacks in a repeat of last season's grand final.
Hamilton led 14-0 after 23 minutes. But the Blacks, benefiting from a 12-3 penalty count, dominated possession and field position to fight their way back into the match and go to the break level at 14-all.
Dane Sherratt kicked a penalty to edge the Hawks ahead.
But for the majority, the Hawks were camped near their own line. The visitors threw everything at the home side and at one point strung 32 phases together in the Hamilton quarter.
Then, after absorbing enormous pressure, Hamilton created a turnover, ran 80 metres and three phases later Peter Bakarich crashed over to extend the lead to 24-14.
Again the Blacks pressured the Hamilton line.
Finally, in the 68th minute and with Hamilton a man down after losing Joe Akkersdyk to the sinbin, centre Carl Manu found a bit of space on the right edge to cross and close the gap to 24-21.
But that was the end of the section for the visitors.
Hamilton hooker Chris Ale burrowed over from close range for a converted try and Sherratt iced the win with a late penalty.
"The defensive effort was awesome," Coleman said. "We pride ourselves on our defence and they really stood up."
Elsewhere, fly-half Jarrod Nyssen landed a late penalty goal to snatch Lake Macquarie a gripping 20-19 win over Nelson Bay at Walters Park.
The Roos led 7-5 at half-time, despite having three players sent to the sinbin and playing about five minutes with 12 men.
At Townson Oval, Merewether led 24-0 on the way to a 57-24 triumph over University.
At Rugby Park, Southern Beaches led Singleton 7-0 but couldn't go the distance, losing 48-27.