SOUTHERN Beaches strengthened their claim for a maiden Newcastle and Hunter rugby union minor premiership when they overpowered a rattled Merewether Carlton 25-15 in a spiteful match at Townson Oval last night.
Referee Rob D’Elboux had a battle to keep control from the opening whistle and issued 15 penalties and five yellow cards, three to Merewether players and two to Southern Beaches, after two fights in the first half.
Two of Beaches’ tries were scored with a man advantage as they set up the win with a dominant opening 40 minutes, going to the break up 20-3.
‘‘We handled our emotions better,’’ a satisfied Southern Beaches coach Tim Chidgey said. ‘‘We caught their punches and kept playing football. They wanted to keep throwing them.’’
Beaches are in their sixth season of premier rugby and made the semi-finals for the first time last season. With five games remaining this campaign, they are assured of at least matching that.
Last night’s win was the 12th from 13 games and they sit in second place on 57 points, three adrift of Hamilton, who they meet in a showdown for top spot at Passmore Oval on Saturday week.
Merewether remain in third place on 41 points.
Chidgey said it was too early to worry about the minor premiership but was delighted with the effort.
‘‘What tonight showed was that we have depth and can get up for big games,’’ he said. ‘‘The first forty minutes was outstanding. We scrummaged well, our defence was good.
‘‘The disappointing thing was that we let it slip in the last 20 minutes. We did enough to win but in semi-finals that could cost us if we don’t finish them off.’’
Merewether coach Stacey Sykes admitted they got sucked in.
‘‘The emotion got to us, and congratulations to them – they won the battle,’’ Sykes said. ‘‘Having three people sent to the sin bin ... it’s important that we try to have 15 people on the park.
‘‘We have to learn from tonight and improve.’’
Chidgey set the scene for an explosive encounter when he criticised the Greens in the Herald for scheduling the catch-up game for last night instead of the designated date for washed out games this Saturday.
Almost on cue, the game erupted in an all-in brawl in the third minute after a Beaches player was taken high in tackle. Players from both sides converged, and it took D’Elboux almost a minute to restore order. Merewether captain Mick Gill and Beaches lock Adrian Sutter were both sent to the sin bin.
Beaches were awarded a penalty for the high shot, which Tim Riley converted.
The Kiwi centre added another penalty before both teams returned to their full complement.
The niggle continued and a second fight erupted in the 20th minute from a scrum. This time Beaches prop Tom Foley and Greens pair Eric Fabian (prop) and Dan Kevill (No.8) were given yellow cards.
Once the fighting stopped, Beaches played some decent rugby.
Corey Nash pounced on a fumble from Merewether fullback Cal McDonald to cross out wide. Riley converted from the sideline for 13-3.
Three minutes later the Kiwi produced a piece of individual brilliance, regathering his own kick and racing 40 metres to score under the posts.
Welsh No.8 Bleddyn Gant extended the visitors’ lead five minutes into the second half when he powered over from the back of a maul.
Mark Wade hit back from close range for the Greens and Gareth Ernst crossed for another at the death.