IT was more than two years in the making and took desperate defence late to secure, but Wanderers christened their redeveloped home at No.2 Sportsground with a spirited 19-12 triumph over Southern Beaches.
Icing a near-perfect day for the Two Blues, they also claimed the Hawthorne Cup – named after Wanderers and dual international Phil Hawthorne – for the first time since 2010.
Coach Ellis Meachen, in his first season at Wanderers, was confident the victory would provide a platform for the rest of the season.
‘‘This is our house,’’ the well-travelled Kiwi said.
‘‘To get on the pitch and put in a good performance was vital – not just for the playing group.
‘‘It was hugely important for the volunteers in the club, for them to see that all the hard work they have done, that they will get some value back.
‘‘Now we have our home ground, things will change.
‘‘There will be a change in attitude. The guys will want to start coming to training and will be more positive.’’
The $7million facility, funded predominantly by a federal government grant and Newcastle City Council, is the new headquarters of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby and was officially opened eight days ago.
A crowd of more than 1500 braved cold and windy conditions on Saturday for the Two Blues’ first match at No.2 since they embarrassed The Waratahs 108-0 in round 17, 2009 – the year they last won the premiership.
Beaches entered the round-seven match unbeaten but were out-enthused and out-bustled by a determined Wanderers.
The Two Blues got up quickly in defence and put the Beaches ball carriers under pressure, especially out wide.
They counter-rucked effectively and the scrum had the upper hand in the second half.
But in the end it took desperate goal-line defence to seal the win.
Behind 19-12 with time up, Beaches halfback Marty Delore, who had scored both the visitors’ tries, darted from the base of a ruck. The No.9 got across the tryline but could not get the ball down through a tangle of Wanderers arms and legs.
‘‘We could have tied the game at the end,’’ Southern Beaches coach Tim Chidgey said.
‘‘We would have taken it, but we wouldn’t have deserved it.
‘‘Full credit to Wanderers. The game meant a lot more to them and they played like it.
‘‘We weren’t in the game and just went through the motions.
‘‘We didn’t create space for our backs. They were getting the ball under pressure and were going sideways.
‘‘Our forwards didn’t stick to the game plan and made the backs look very ordinary.’’
Country trio Cory Te Koeti, Anthony Barrett and Damian Winter and debutant American breakaway Adam Frank were outstanding for the Two Blues, who led 7-0 and 12-5 before going to the break level at 12-all.
Captain Barrett made the big play of the second half, racing up in defence and swooping on a pressure pass before powering 20metres to the tryline.
‘‘We had some leadership come back into the team which maybe had been missing in crucial times,’’ Meachen said.
Elsewhere on Saturday, premiers Merewether held on to beat Maitland 19-16 at Townson Oval. The Greens, boosted by the return of Sean Rudder, led 12-3 at half-time.
The Waratahs scored their second consecutive win by a point, edging past Nelson Bay 30-29 at Strong Oval.
Hamilton overpowered Lake Macquarie 31-17 and University were too slick for Singleton running in eight tries to two in a 52-13 rout. Cameron Stuart scored a treble and Tim Alliston a double for the Students.