Vikings and Marlins are muddy marvellous in rugby slogfest
DON'T be surprised if the hottest Mid North Coast Rugby premiership favourites in a decade get jittery next time they head north to take on a Coffs Coast outfit.
Hastings Valley is unbeaten and at unbackable odds to retain the title but again struck difficulties in a northern excursion - this time against Southern Cross University.
Yes, Vikings were missing super half Adam McCormack and Marlin Park was a mud bath from tryline to tryline but the narrow 12-0 win was far from convincing against a side they were entitled to feel they could handle with ease.
Three weeks back Vikings had to pull out all stops to beat Coffs Snappers 15-0 at Toormina and at least one coach - SCU's Dave Nicol - believes they may not be as certain of going all the way as most imagine.
"It was a hell of a game and hellish conditions in that mud," Nicol said.
"I keep saying every week that our forwards are putting us in a winning position and they did it again.
"Just one or two lapses made the difference but after watching that game today, I've got even more respect for McCormack's influence on zone rugby.
"Without him they are only as good as the rest of us."
The visitors scored the only try of the first half as players slogged from end to end.
Early in the second half, Marlins slaughtered a try and watched helplessly as Vikings picked up a loose ball and scored against the run of play to take a 12-0 lead.
"We went off the boil for a minute or so and I was thinking we were about to get belted," Nicol admitted.
"I probably reacted too quickly as the forwards got going again and really gave it to Hastings.
"They came at us from everywhere but the boys wouldn't take a backward step.
"When you lose a game you have to learn something and I reckon we learned again that hard work in the next few weeks is going to have us there for the big matches."
Whether the ground comes back before the play-offs is a different matter.
SCU half Damon Rootes said he'd never played on a surface so bad.
"Trying to scoop the ball up and control it was almost impossible," he said.
"A couple of times I got my hand underneath and came up with big handfuls of mud that stuck to the ball and my shirt.
"It was really awful out there."