Undefeated leaders Central Newcastle have put themselves in the best possible position approaching consecutive matches against last year’s top three teams.
The Butcher Boys took their chance to go clear at the top of the Newcastle Rugby League competition ladder with a hard fought 18-10 victory over Cessnock at St John Oval on Sunday.
Central, who finished seventh last season, remain the only unbeaten side in 2017 ahead of encounters with Western Suburbs, Macquarie and title holders South Newcastle.
Butcher Boys coach Craig Miller, who will face former club Wests at Harker Oval this weekend, said his squad showed promising signs in the fourth round encounter with the visiting Goannas.
“That was a tough game and Cessnock really took it to us,” Miller said.
“But there were really good signs for us to play like that and get a win, because we had to be really strong on our line and that’s the sign of a maturing side.
“I wasn’t happy with a few soft tries last week so we worked a lot on our try-line defence. If you want to mix it with Macquarie, Wests and Souths, who we’ve got the next three weeks, you’ve got to be very good on your try line because they’re going to be there a hell of a lot.”
Central were able to keep a rallying Cessnock squad out when it mattered and Goannas coach Steve Kidd was left to lament two chances gone begging in the second half.
“The effort was outstanding and I couldn’t fault them there, but just our execution was down,” Kidd said.
“The first 30 [minutes] we had the run of the game basically but only got one and missed another couple in the second half.
“But credit to Central, they defended their line well and we couldn’t quite break them down enough times.”
Cessnock centre Brendan Williams opened the scoring after 15 minutes but the hosts hit back via left-edge pairing Steve Gordon and Jared Nott for a 12-4 lead at the break.
It stayed that way for most of the second half before Nott’s second, and Brad Murray’s third conversion, sealed the result.
Goannas substitute Sam Apthorpe nabbed a late consolation try.
Elsewhere on Saturday and Wests’ perfect start to the season was stopped by Macquarie, who came from eight down with 15 to go for an 18-14 triumph at Lyall Peacock Field. The Bulldogs blew Maitland away 40-4 at Kurri and Lakes overcame Souths 26-16 at Cahill Oval.
And Newcastle’s under-23 representative team have advanced to meet North Coast in round two of the NSW Country Championships this weekend after accounting for Northern Rivers 34-14 at Wauchope on Saturday.
LADDER: Central 8, Wests 6, Macquarie, Lakes 4, Souths, Kurri, Maitland, Cessnock, 2