AFTER feeling like they had been "banging their heads against a wall" for the past month, the Hunter Wildfires have finally earned reward for their hard work.
Powerhouse winger Rob Buserau carried four players over the line and somehow grounded the ball in-goal to snatch a 29-all draw with Shute Shield heavyweights Manly at Manly Oval on Saturday.
The two points from the draw a plus bonus point moved the Wildfires above Penrith, West Harbour and Western Sydney and into 10th spot.
What's more, coach Scott Coleman is adamant they are still "nowhere near where we can be".
"It was a boost we needed to be honest," Coleman said. "They have been banging their heads against a wall for a little while now.
"It is a good result, but we can definitely improve. There is a lot more to do on the finer details. Our combinations can be better.
"We haven't fielded the same XV yet and we might not ever because of injuries and what not. The guys who are getting thrown in there are having a crack. We just have to get used to sticking to the game plan. We are as big and as strong as opposition teams. Our scrum is getting better.
"We know we can compete at this level. In the huddle after the game, we spoke about doing the little extra efforts, and who knows what will come of it."
After playing well in patches in the opening three loses to Randwick (50-7), Eastwood (46-11) and Sydney University (59-10), the Wildfires produced a committed effort for 80 minutes against the Marlins.
"We went right to the end," Coleman said. "After we tied it up, we held them on the their 40m line to halfway for 10 phases and they threw a lot at us."
Steve Lamont, promoted from the bench to start at hooker, set the tone with his energy and worke rate. The back-row of Shawn Ingle, Piers Morrell and Ben Ham were strong, Michael Moloney was assured at fly-half and Angus Brown tackled everything.
"Lamont had a great game," Coleman said. "He really lifted the energy."
In a sea-sawing clash, the visitors trailed 5-0 after six minutes. Manly lost prop Alefusio Tatola to the siin bin for foul play in the 18th minute and the Wildfires hit back with converted tries to Melbourne recruit Moloney (21st minute) and Nimi Qio (27th) to go ahead 14-5.
From the restart, Seva Rokobaro made a half break only for the ball to go to ground. From the scrum Manly went down the short side and giant No.8 Max Douglas bumped off three defenders to cross in the corner.
"Those are the finer details. We pushed a pass and they go down the other end and score," Coleman said.
Two minutes before half-time the Marlins were in again after the Wildfires gave away a penalty and fullback Yool Yool slipped through out wide for a 17-14 advantage.
Moloney, who was outstanding with the boot, landed a penalty to level the scores and then floated a long pass for Chad Northcott to dart over in the corner for a 22-17 after 47 minutes.
The home side responded with consecutive tries to lead 29-22 with 17 minutes.
In a similar situation against Eastwood, the Wildfires folded. Not this time.
After sustained pressure Moloney, rolled the ball in-goal and with Buserau baring down the Manly winger batted the ball over the deadball and was penalised.
The Wildfires took a scrum and Buserau came in from the blindside wing and powered over. Moloney added the extras for 29-all.
Manly had an opportunity late but couldn't find a hole in a resolute Wildfires defence.
Next for the Wildfires are the undefeated Northern Suburbs, who are fresh from the bye.
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