Coffs Rugby and Marlins thriller
EXTRA spice has been added to the approaching Mid North Coast zone semi finals after Coffs Rugby's 31-12 win over Southern Cross University.
Both sides could have been excused for showing the effects of Coffs Cup race week but instead turned on an enthralling spectacle.
Not everything the premiers did was perfect but after a couple of lacklustre efforts in recent weeks, they showed the preparations for the play-offs starting in two weeks are certainly on course, to the delight of coach Geoff Mould.
"They were much improved and that was expected but the power of the scrum won out in the end," he said.
"The line-outs weren't as good but the scrum made up for it and we did some pretty nice things.
"Late in the day it was always going to be a case of wearing down Uni with weight and size."
From the moment the two teams took the field and locked into the regular good luck embrace, the size difference between the two was glaring.
Undaunted, the Marlins put that fact behind and spent the first half hour rumbling their highly-rated guests.
It caused Coffs endless frustration, upsetting their rhythm no end.
Minor indiscretions by Marlins saw them pay the price by giving away a string of penalties - but it was effective.
The inevitable happened when referee Andrew Birch lost patience and sin-binned SCU hooker Mark Glover before handing Coffs a penalty try.
Twice, Waqa Yaya was recalled when scoring seemed certain but on the stroke of half time, fullback Josh Rayner crossed in the scoreboard corner to trail 5-7 to the delight of Uni coach Dave Nicol.
"I can forgive some of the errors because the boys played a fantastic half of rugby," he said.
"Finally they have started to believe in themselves and that was the effort of a confident, polished team."
Indeed, the home side looked like they have finally arrived as a genuine rugby power and for the first time this season there was a mood among supporters that with the right kind of good fortune, an upset was possible.
Those hopes swung in the breeze when Coffs scored following the resumption but again revived when Chris Tonks was yellow-carded for a shoulder charge and Cameron Smith went over soon after.
Simon Donald's conversion locked scores 12-all and suddenly, a real game was on the table.
Enter Stu McVicar for Coffs Rugby.
The diminutive fly half turned in a blinder over the final stages, making coach Mould beam with pleasure.
"He was splendid today," he said.
"The other big plus was the return of Vile (Vatuvile) and I have to find somewhere out there to put him.
"He doesn't really fill a position as he's liable to turn up anywhere but watch the team and how they lift the moment he appears."
McVicar's second try was a ripper.
It featured over-the-shoulder flick and basketball passes galore between Dylan Hurley and Vatuvile which brought the huge crowd to their feet with excitement.
Even the University Mermaids cheerleaders showed appreciation by making a racket and swamping the unwary with tinsel and pom-poms.
If Mould was feeling chipper, opposite number Nicol was grinning with delight.
"We lost today but I bet Coffs will be looking at us next time ... and I've got a feeling we'll meet again," Nicol grinned.
"Our job now is to go away to South West Rocks next Saturday and have the same intensity and belief as we showed today.
"This is now a real rugby team and the semis can't come soon enough."
COFFS RUGBY 31 (Penalty try - S McVicar 2 M Kama D Hurley tries P Butcher 3 conversions) bt SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY MARLINS 12 (C Smith J Rayner tries S Donald conversion)
At Advocate (Comets-Marlins) Park, Coffs Harbour
Referee: Andrew Birch
Port Macquarie Pirates bt South West Rocks Gaolers 34-17
Hastings Valley Vikings bt Kempsey Cannonballs 53-26
Coffs Harbour Crabs bt SCU 29-15
Port Macquarie 34 bt Bowraville Goannas 34-5
Hastings Valley bt Kempsey 24-10
Coffs Harbour bt SCU 31-12
Kempsey bt Port Macquarie 12-5