THE Orange Hawks were knocked off the top of the Group 10 premier league ladder by the Oberon Tigers in a thrilling game at Wade Park on Sunday.
The two blues were handed their second defeat in as many weeks and, thanks to the 22-20 loss at Oberon’s hands and Cowra’s win over Mudgee, they’ve fallen to second.
Sunday’s clash was thrilling in terms of its scoreline and finish, rather than the game itself, which never reached any great heights.
Both Hawks and Oberon were understrength and lacking developed combinations and, as a result, for the most part they both produced error-riddled performances, although there were short periods of brilliance both ways.
The clash remained close, though, the result coming down to a kick after full-time from virtually the sideline.
Oberon came from behind and then led 22-16 with just seconds to go, but Hawks’ Brett Morgan barged over on the eastern side of the ground to give the two blues a chance at salvaging an all-important draw.
Kyle Robbins stepped up to take the shot, his first kick of the day, and struck it sweetly. The kick looked good all the way too, until it crashed into the crossbar and bounced out.
As a goal-kicker himself, Oberon captain-coach Luke Branighan, also sidelined with injury, empathised with Robbins, before lauding his troops for the character they showed after trailing 12-nil early.
“I feel for the goalkicker. It’s not his fault, though - Hawks had 79 other minutes to win that game,” Branighan said.
“Hawks had players out, so we’re not naive, but we had eight first graders out, too, 50 per cent of the side, and I don’t think there’s many teams that could be in that position and still beat one of the top sides. The guys who stepped up did a magnificent job.
“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, but we’ve been confident in what we’re doing for quite a few weeks. We still haven’t learned how to hold on to the ball properly, though.”
Hawks roared out of the gates, forcing a drop-out from the initial kick-off which allowed Jake Blimka – playing halfback, rather than fullback – to score in the second minute.
Duncan Young added the extras, doing so again at the 20-minute mark after Brodie Christopherson – who shifted to five-eighth from halfback – put Rakai Tuheke over.
At that point, Hawks looked a million dollars and Oberon had completed just two sets, one which ended in a Ben McAlpine 40-20, which was promptly followed by a knock-on.
Oberon began finding their groove in the 10 minutes before half-time, but it still took a piece of McAlpine brilliance to get them on the scoreboard.
Faced with a shooter on the last tackle, he skipped around that defender, grubbered and regathered before breaking a tackle and beating Hawks’ fullback Jackson Coote too to score.
Oloapu missed the conversion, but made no mistake six minutes after half-time when Matt Ballinger regathered a kick of his own to score as well.
That’s when the Tigers clicked into gear. Josh Starling and Mick Hawkins started making massive inroads through the middle, and Oloapu crashed over in the 60th minute after Trent Guihot was held up.
He converted to give his side the lead for the first time, although Corey Brown locked things up at 16-all just five minutes later.
With a field goal attempt looking likely from both sides, Hawkins changed the angle of attack and broke the line, scoring six minutes out from full-time.
Oloapu’s conversion gave the Tigers a 22-16 lead, which ultimately proved enough as Robbins’ last-gasp kick missed.
Hawks are now a point behind the competition-leading Magpies and considering they face Mudgee on the road while Cowra host Lithgow Workies, the two blues’ dream of a minor premiership looks in tatters and, if things go wrong in the last round, they could drop as low as fourth.
“We’ve definitely made it tougher for ourselves,” injured Hawks captain-coach Willie Heta said.
He missed the loss thanks to a knee injury he picked up against CYMS the week before.
“We know every team is out to get us … they’re all coming to get the two points, so I think we just need to work that little bit harder.”
- OBERON TIGERS 22 (Ben McAlpine, Matt Ballinger, Tui Oloapu, Mick Hawkins tries; Oloapu 3 goals) def ORANGE HAWKS 20 (Jake Blimka, Rakai Tuheke, Corey Brown, Brett Morgan tries; Duncan Young 2 goals)