WHEN Bathurst Bulldogs coach Nathan Pearce shook hands at full-time with his Orange Emus opposite Paul Ringland on Saturday he offered the simple message of “Too good.”
The assessment was spot on as Emus posted a 29-15 win at Ashwood Park to reach the halfway point of the Blowes Clothing Cup competition as the only undefeated side.
The visitors’ speed at the breakdown impressed, but so too did the defence as Emus restricted Bulldogs to just two tries, the second of which came with four seconds remaining.
Even when Emus was reduced to 12 on the field as lock Nick Hughes-Clapp was yellow carded in the second half, Bulldogs could not take advantage and add to its score.
Yet for all that, Pearce had reason to feel optimistic following Bulldogs’ second defeat of the season.
“It was a good game of footy and now we know where we are at,” Pearce said.
“I counted four line breaks in that first half and we just didn’t capitalise on it, that’s a credit to Emus, they really did adjust well, they’re a quality side, it shows if you look at their record.
“But after the game the boys were talking and they know they’ve got it. It’s just a matter of getting the work in … we should hopefully get three more cracks at them. No-one has got within 40 of them this year, that’s the closest anyone has got.”
It was Emus who applied the pressure early on in the round nine clash and at the eight minute mark took the lead as winger Levi Russell crossed in the left corner. Nigel Staniforth added the extras to make it 7-0.
However, after conceding early Bulldogs lifted and the next 15 minutes the hosts probed as they camped inside Emus’ 22.
Adam Geal made a strong run after a nice Peter Fitzsimmons cut out pass and while beating a number of defenders, was eventually halted by Emus’ cover defence.
Having absorbed that attacking pressure – and demonstrating why it has the best defensive record in the competition – Emus added to its tally with a second try. Prop Al Hattersley was rewarded for backing up flyhalf AJ Sykes as he found space.
Bulldogs once more responded by renewing its efforts and in the 27th minute finally cracked Emus’ defence as Fitzsimmons drove over.
First grade debutant Josh Weekes was unable to land the wide conversion and missed a penalty goal attempt eight out from the break, but the 14-8 half-time scoreline still gave Bulldogs hope of an upset.
The job of being the first side to beat Emus in 2017 got harder five minutes after the resumption when Sam Green scored following a line-out, though a Weekes penalty soon after made it 19-8.
Bulldogs needed to be the next to score and looked a chance when rival lock Nick Hughes-Clapp was shown a yellow card. But instead of enjoying a one-man overlap and attacking line-out feed on Emus’ line, the hosts put the kick from the resulting penalty dead in-goal.
Staniforth then added three points to Emus’ tally via a penalty goal and when Russell crossed for his second with 13 left, it was game over.
A tenacious Sam Roberson scored a late consolation for Bulldogs, Weekes converting to put the final score at 29-15.
Ringland was a little unhappy to concede that try, but was pleased with the effort of his men.
“That [try] was very disappointing, but to come away with a bonus point win from here, I’m very happy with that,” he said.
“They believed that they could win, Bathurst played like they thought they could win, but we were good enough to turn them around and get the win.”
Emus’ strong start to the season has it on track to add to its 2016 and 2015 premierships, but Ringland is not looking that far ahead.
“We are certainly happy with where we are at, but it’s a long way to go in the journey and we are not going to get too carried away. A lot of teams are going to be a lot different come the second time we play them,” he said.
“Forbes have obviously improved a lot, Bathurst were very strong and Dubbo are going to be strong, so it’s going to take a good team to win the comp this year.”
ORANGE EMUS 29 (Levi Russell 2, Sam Green, Al Hattersley tries; Nigel Staniforth penalty, Nigel Stanifoth 3 converions) defeated BATHURST BULLDOGS 15 (Sam Roberson, Peter Fitzsimmons tries; Josh Weekes penalty, Josh Weekes conversion)