AFTER more than three years, fortress Ashwood has finally been breached.
Orange Emus ended Bathurst Bulldogs' brilliant run of success on their home turf with a hard-earned 22-11 Blowes Cup victory at Ashwood Park on Saturday.
It was the first time the Bulldogs first XV had lost there since June 17, 2017. On that occasion Emus won as well.
Saturday's loss in a rematch of the 2019 grand final made it two defeats in a row to start the season for Bulldogs and number 8 Peter Fitzsimmons admitted it hurt a little more given their impressive home streak ended too.
"I think that was our first lost in 24 games here, so it does sting because we never like losing here. But we've lost here before and we'll lose here again I suppose, that's the way footy is," he said.
"But we definitely like to keep this the dog house, we don't like when people come here and take ours.
"Whenever Emus are on the paddock they're ones to watch, so we have to lift our game and pick up from there. The next game [against them] will be at their home ground and we'll try and take it back from there."
Bulldogs weren't without their chances to win the match, they created overlaps more than once and strung together a number of phases inside Emus' 22. But strong defence from the greens and at times lacking execution in back line movements hurt the Bathurst side.
"I think it's our continuity, knowing who's inside, who's outside with the new faces, but there are a lot of old faces too that need to be picking up that slack," Fitzsimmons admitted.
"The shots were pretty heavy out there, I thought both teams were defending well. We've seen both teams play better than that, but it's early, we'll get there."
For Emus coach Pete Bromley, enjoyment did come from winning at Ashwood Park after his team came so close to doing so in last year's grand final.
But the result was one he relished more for the fact it put his side in a strong position early in the shortened season and because Emus' commitment in defence was excellent.
"It's a good start to the season, getting two in a row," Bromley said.
"Playing at any footy ground, it doesn't matter where it its, it's a matter of just putting it together. We were so close last year, so it was nice to win.
"Defence is all about attitude. You can talk all you want about technique, but if you want to make the tackle, that's an attitude thing. When you're tired the attitude generally falls, but in the last few minutes of the last half we really stuck to it and got the defence going well."
Bulldogs' only try of the contest came inside the opening 10 minutes at a time Emus were threatening. The greens had created a four-on-three situation, but a cut-out pass from Jamil Khalfan was intercepted.
Instead of an Emus try, it was Justin Mobbs who crossed for Bulldogs.
Winger Harry Cummins came up with the reply for Emus to lock it up at 5-all, but when the visitors lost Sam Green to a yellow card for deliberately knocking down a pass they found themselves back under pressure.
Bulldogs did manage to take the lead while holding a one-man advantage, but it came via a Will Oldham penalty goal, not a try. The hosts probed on the fringes, but knocked-on just as they looked like striking.
Khalfan responded with a penalty goal in the 36th minute to see the rivals go to half-time locked at 8-all.
Early in the second half Bulldogs' defence was tested as Emus enjoyed an attacking line-out feed five metres out. While the Orange side drove hard at the line, the Bathurst defence held.
In the 52nd minute an Oldham penalty goal put Bulldogs ahead, but eight minutes later momentum swung again.
Emus five-eighth Carter Hirini - one of his side's best - sparked an attacking movement which led to a Sam Greatbatch try in the left corner which Khalfan converted.
Seven minutes later came another blow for the Bulldogs. Emus' pack showed their strength as they drove Bulldogs' scrum backwards and when the ball spilled lose, Green pounced.
It was then put through the hands and centre Tom Joseph crossed, the conversion making it 22-11 with 15 minutes left.
Bulldogs came at Emus in the final minutes, but the visitors held on.
"We've been working hard on the scrum because it is a key part of the game, if you dominate the scrummage you generally win the game. It's good to have Nas Havealeta back because he missed last week, that give us a good-four front-row unit as such," Bromley said.