A MOMENT of courage from Lachie Buckton and playing with heart in defence were critical in CSU beginning its New Holland Cup title defence with a hard-fought 15-12 win over Dubbo Rhinos on Saturday.
The opening 20 minutes of the match at University Oval and all but five minutes of the second half saw the Dubbo Rhinos dominate possession and field position.
But CSU conceded just two tries - one in the 17th minute and another with two minutes left. That defensive mettle - 10 minutes of which came when they were a man short due to a yellow card - backed up a moment in attack which the students' skipper Nick Plunkett praised.
Two minutes into the second half Buckton, playing at prop, drove hard at a set Rhinos defensive line and managed to barge his way over the line. It helped CSU to a 12-5 lead at that point.
"The look on everyone's faces, they were just big smiles, it's the way you want to start a half. Credit to Lachie Buckton, he said 'It's my ball' and just took it and ran as hard as he could," Plunkett said.
"That's courageous, it is courageous, a wall defence, running as hard as you can on your own, I wouldn't do it personally."
Just as Plunkett praised the heart CSU showed, Dubbo Rhinos coach Darren Taylor felt his squad had displayed the same quality.
While beaten, it looked a vastly different Rhinos outfit from the one which finished with the wooden spoon the last two seasons in terms of determination.
"I'm proud of the boys, the boys done an awesome job and have really turned things around. We've been building this for nearly a year," Taylor said.
"At the end of the day there is a lot more building to do and there is a lot more players to come, but I'm still very proud of them, there's plenty of ticker there, and we'll move on to round two."
While a pair of early missed penalty goal attempts - one in the seventh minute, the other in the 14th - ended up hurting Rhinos, Taylor pointed to other chances that went begging as more painful.
Number 8 Viliame Turuva, who often lined up on the wing for set back line plays, was ruled to have gone into touch when it appeared he had scored in the second half.
Soon after centre Bobby Jo Gordon crossed the line, but under pressure from an attempted Harry Hunt tackle, was ruled to have knocked-on attempting to ground the ball.
"We had three or four tries disallowed, to me at least one of them was a try," Taylor said. "I felt there were various calls that needed to be made and weren't, which I felt played a part in the result. That's how I feel."
The Rhinos opened scoring via Callum Cook in the 17th minute, but CSU then lifted and applied its own attacking pressure.
The Rhinos held on, repelling phase after phase with good on-line defence and shutting down kicks in behind the line with scrambling cover.
But six minutes out from the break a Leigh Mongahan flick pass found Aden Macdoogan, who then put fullback Glenn Pollard over. Jordan Carr Boney landed the sideline conversion to give CSU a 7-5 lead.
Buckton crashed over shortly after play resumed and the only other time CSU saw possession in the Rhinos' half - it came on the back of a Pollard break down the right wing - the students drew a penalty which Carr Boney slotted.
That made it 15-5 and it proved enough. Rhinos skipper Matt Neill drove over with two minutes left, but as the conversion found the mark the full-time whistle was blown.
While Plunkett acknowledged that CSU put itself under pressure on a number of occasions due to poor discipline and handling, the heart that they showed in defence made amends.
"I think we were defending for that last 30 minutes in our own half and 10 minutes a man down. But I think we didn't let each other down, we played with a bit of heart there," he said.
"I think we wanted it a bit more than them, I think that's what it come down to. So credit to the boys, we worked hard and dug deep."