CSU will be without star playmaker Ethan Cusick for the remainder of the New Holland Cup season after he broke his arm trying to inspire a students comeback on Saturday afternoon.
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It was a comeback that fell short, a brave 14-man Dubbo Rhinos outfit holding off CSU's late push to win 29-20 at University Oval.
However, losing Cusick hurt CSU as much as losing the match.
After being named the 2021 New Holland Cup player of the year, injury and illness has kept Cusick from playing as many minutes as he would like this season.
But when he's operating he is a threat. He scored the opening try of Saturday's match, set up CSU's second and with 10 minutes left on the clock he looked headed for the line when he sliced through Rhinos' defence on the left edge.
However, Rhinos' cover defence caught Cusick and while he got an offload away, he fell awkwardly in the tackle and in the process he broke his arm.
"I thought Ethan was going to score there and last season he probably would've, he's just not been able to train this season," CSU coach Dave Conyers said.
"But now he is out for the season, he broke his arm."
Cusick's injury was a sour note in a game which built towards a tense and exciting finish.
After CSU had been monstered by the much larger Rhinos in the season opener and handed a 40-0 loss, this time around the students matched up well.
They scored the opening try off a big scrum, skipper Lachlan Melville breaking away off the back before firing the ball off to Cusick in support.
But the Rhinos soon showed why they are the big improvers of season 2022.
Rhinos' reply was two minutes in coming as a quick penalty tap caught out CSU and Nash Forgione scored. On the 20 minute mark Rhinos were in again as quick hands create space on the left edge which winger Aminiasi Rokaci exploited.
Having earlier made a brilliant try-saving tackle on CSU's Will Townsend, Rhinos fullback Dale Smith pushed his side further ahead before the break.
He ran hard to be in a position to support his team-mates and it paid off as Keiran Hall popped a pass into his arms.
That saw Rhinos with a 17-5 lead, but early in the second half they were dealt a huge blow when Tyrone Fleming was red carded for using his shoulder in an attempted clean out.
Down to 14 men, the Rhinos were under pressure. It was pressure Smith helped ease.
The fullback made a number of strong counter-attacking runs out of his own half and when Alex Walker broke clear following a Rhinos scrum, Smith was there in support and scored under the sticks.
Hall converted to make it 24-5 with 24 minutes left.
But CSU was not about to conceded and led by Cusick, began a fightback.
Firstly a brilliant Cusick cut-out ball put Melville over in the left corner and soon after his smart kick in behind the line which Lachlan Conyers chased through and regathered put CSU in attacking position once more.
Cusick then sliced through Rhinos' defence on the left edge and while he was caught just short of the line and suffered his season-ending injury, CSU was in good field position.
They capitalised with a successful Joe Fajloun pick and drive and when fellow front rower Lachie Buckton scored five minutes following a five metre scrum, CSU had clawed it back to 24-20.
At that stage there was still around four minutes remaining. But Rhinos kept their cool, won the ball back, carried it into CSU's 22 and number 8 Nacewa Nalagai came up with the try to seal the bonus-point win.
Rhinos coach Doug Sandry was a relieved man.
"It's happened again, like our discipline is letting us down, it's making us fight hard. But brave effort, really brave," he said.
"Defensively I thought that they scored a couple of lucky late tries but we'll take those and move on. We haven't won here at CSU in four or five years, so this is terrific, we're stoked.
"The thing that really impressed me was our line-out, our line-out was super, we didn't turn over a line-out today and our tactical kicking too, that's been terrific all year.
"We love playing CSU, they are the best club to play in the competition. We love coming over here and having them come over to us. There's a rivalry there, but it's a friendly rivalry."
While Conyers certainly saw improvement from what his men did in the first round against Rhinos, he admitted their decision making under pressure was not always the best and that the visitors "deserved their win".
"We just kicked the ball away too much. Three or four times we would've scored tries if we just hung onto it and we never kicked a goal either, four tries and we missed all four goals," he said.
"In the first half we should've had another try too. We were on their line there for 10 minutes but just a penalty or a knock-on cost us.
"But we had plenty of stick today and that's after we had five changes before we even started.
"Our scrum was a massive improvement, Judah [Johnson], he destroyed their prop. I'm really impressed with the way he played, he'll get a bit fitter and get a bit more nous about him too."
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