Marlins escape Gaolers clutches
A STRONGER finish helped Southern Cross University edge out South West Rocks 13-7 and keep those Mid North Coast Rugby semi final aspirations burning.
The home side made heavy weather early while trying to match strides with the Gaolers who for a fleeting moment in the second half looked likely to run away with the prize.
With a lack of field position, the Marlins decided midway through the second half to kick downfield and take the battle right up to the opponents.
The result was a pair of tries to fullback Josh Rayner and while the Gaolers knocked hard on the University door, improved defence kept them at bay long enough for Uni to sneak home.
"They stuck to it, they didn't quit and decided not to give in under pressure which has happened once or twice before," winning coach Dave Nicol said.
"We aimed to score four tries (for the bonus point) and only got two but we almost made it, making a mess of a couple of them at the beginning."
On the sticky surface of Advocate (Comets) Park the Marlins made a more tentative start than normal.
In possession, they tried to make the ball do too much work and spilled it more often than not by creating a catalogue of errors when put through the hands.
This led to the loss of two genuine scoring opportunities when the ball couldn't be grounded in goal, minutes before a final pass was put down with the try line at their mercy.
The other problem was turning the ball over or having it stripped away far too easily by Gaolers at the breakdown.
In the end, the only points of the opening stanza came on the stroke of half time when Simon Donald potted a penalty goal from the worst part of the playing surface in the crematorium (north-west) corner.
"The ball got in the way of the backs and everybody got in the road of each other," Nicol remarked.
"During the break I told them not to panic and just stick with it.
"It was always going to be close when the Gaolers scored not long after coming back but my boys did what I asked.
"They refused to panic and when some breaks finally went our way, they grabbed hold."
Not long after changing ends, Gaolers botched a near certainty by spilling the ball over the line but quickly gathered wits and bounced back with a converted try to hit the lead for the first time in the match.
For a long time, Uni was going nowhere until a couple of long kicks down the ground forced play into Gaolers red zone and bit by bit the visiting side's momentum began ebbing away.
They got going again near the end and made it a close run thing by finishing the match in enemy territory but that second wind in defence by Marlins kept them at bay.
"If they'd done a couple of things better we would have been in deep trouble," Nicol admitted.
"But we got there in the end and while it was far from pretty, they hung in and were rewarded."
Nicol wonders what long term damage will eventuate from missing that vitally-important bonus point but the reality is if the side can't beat Hastings Valley at the same venue next weekend, such speculation will be purely academic.
Stand-outs for the winners were No 8 Paul Harrison who ran hard and straight in the first half before his condition faded and jockey-sized flanker BJ Francis who again played far above his height and weight.
"Actually, both loose forwards and our second-rowers are going great for us," Nicol added.
"They'll really have to be one the ball next Saturday and do the same against those Vikings."
SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY MARLINS 13 (J Rayner 2 tries S Donald penalty) bt SOUTH WEST ROCKS GAOLERS 7 (W Sullivan try M Ryan conversion)
Second grade: Bowraville Goannas bt SCU Marlins 14-12
Under 18s: Port Macquarie Pirates bt SCU Marlins 72-0