EASTWOOD coach Ben Batger has no doubts the Hunter Wildfires will win games in the Shute Shield.
And on the evidence of one trip to No.2 Sportsground - a journey that finished with the players sharing a beer on the field and an old-fashioned boat race - Batger would welcome Newcastle becoming a permanent destination on the Shute Shield road map.
"I have been in the Shute Shield 15 years and I missed out on Newcastle (1995-99) last time," Batger said. "It's really good to have a proper away game. If it was a different time [without COVID-19], we would get a bus up or stay in a hotel. That is something different the other clubs don't offer. I think it's good for the Shute Shield as a hole to expand. For me it would be a no-brainer to continue it on in the future."
The Wildfires were not as hospitable on the pitch and provided a stern test - physically and tactically - for the highly-rated Woodies, who finished third in 2019.
Although giving away size and Shute Shield experience, the Wildfires' scrum held strong, they competed hard at the breakdown and forced errors with aggressive defence.
After opening the scoring with a penalty to Brendan Holliday, the Wildfires held their line firm until the 38th minute when Eastwood centre Enoka Mulifi slid through after sustained pressure.
Down 13-6 at the break, the home side closed the gap to 13-11 four minutes into the second half with the try of the match, which started in their own half and was finished by breakaway Shawn Ingle.
Eastwood, with their superior fitness and combinations, clicked up a gear and ran away with the contest in the final 25 minutes.
"We knew they would be up for it in the first 20 minutes," said Batger, who played Super Rugby with the Waratahs and Brumbies. "They were probably up for it for 60 minutes to be honest. There is a lot to like about the Newcastle team and they will trouble a lot of teams up here with their spirit alone.
"They play with a lot of heart and have some really good players as well. You can't expect miracles in the first couple of weeks when you have five weeks preparation ... they are doing amazingly well."
In an another encouraging sign, the Wildfires second grade beat Eastwood 31-24 in a friendly with Rapine Mason starring. The colts went down 38-0.
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