By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
COFFS Rugby coach Paul Butcher said before Saturday's clash that he didn't know what to expect from the Hastings Valley Vikings but it didn't take him long to work out that his team was in for a hard game.
Looking to exact some revenge on Coffs for the grand final losses that had been inflicted on the past, the Viking turned to some old heads to get a win on the board against enemy number one.
"They weren't the team that had been running around for them for the last seven weeks," Butcher said of a Vikings team that is currently on the bottom of the table.
"I'd say eight of their players from last year were playing their first game of the season and it looked like they'd all come back especially to knock us off.
"It was very interesting seeing those guys getting changed before the game and it certainly fired up our guys a bit more."
The move didn't work though as Coffs Harbour maintained their position on top of the table with a 22-6 victory but it was tough all the way.
Right from the outset the Coffs boys faced a stiff test as the Vikings defence was rock solid and the battle between the respective forward packs meant that some big hits were made.
Matt Hoy, Connor Barrett and Chris Webb were outstanding in this department and some of the big tackles that they landed on the Hastings forwards inspired the rest of the forwards to dig in.
It was an attitude that was required as for 10 minutes before half time, Hasting were looking for a converted try to tie up the scores at the break and seemed to have the Coffs Harbour team camped on their own line.
Hastings continually bashed the ball forward during this period but the Coffs defence didn't weaken at any stage.
Two tries after the break sealed the result with the brilliant pick and drive work of the forwards rewarded when Coffs crossed the line.
Nearly every try was scored with the Hastings outside backs rushing up to create pressure which left a gap behind the five-eighth as well as making them vulnerable to an inside ball.
Halfback Damien Punch scored a double while Matt Kent and Andrew Lynn also made their way onto the scoring sheet.
The last 10 minutes of the match were a repeat of the end of the first half as Hastings went looking for their first try but again Coffs kept them at bay.
In a game that was about strong defence from both sides, Butcher was happy with the ball control shown by his charges under such difficult pressure from the opposition.
"To go from 17 knock ons and bad turnovers last week to only eight for the whole game on Saturday under that pressure is a great performance," the coach added.
"I'm was really pleased with how the team played but I've laid down the challenge to them to do it again."
At a glance
COFFS RUGBY 22 (Damien Punch 2, Matt Kent, Andrew Lynn tries; Punch 1 conversion) d HASTINGS VIKINGS 6 (A Barnes 2 penalty goals).
Reserve Grade: Coffs Rugby drew with Hastings 17-all. Under 18s: Hastings 10 d Coffs Rugby 0.