Western Suburbs coach Matt Lantry believes his side will need to improve to beat Macquarie next week after holding an understrength Kurri Kurri at bay in a 32-16 win on Saturday at Harker Oval.
In the only game played on Saturday, Newcastle Rugby League leaders Wests trailed 6-0 after the opening half hour with a try to Kurri's Brady Hammond.
The Rosellas, though, took a 10-6 half-time lead with late tries to Willis Alatini and James Elias.
They extended the advantage with a try to Sam Keenan off his own bomb. Mick Campton crashed over for Kurri about 15 minutes into the second half to cut the deficit but Simon Williams put Keenan over and Elias also grabbed his second try to put the hosts well clear.
Brock Gilmour scored for seventh-placed Kurri and Alatini crossed for his second for Wests to end the scoring.
It was a brave effort from the Bulldogs, who were missing Jarom Haines and Terence Seu Seu and had Ben Wyborn and Mitch Cullen playing out of position in the halves after the recent departures of Ryan and Tyrone Walsh. Prop Gilmour switched to hooker and Jayden Young went off after 15 minutes because of an ankle injury.
Lantry, who was missing Uti Baker and Mao Uta (both hamstring), was impressed with Kurri’s effort but believed his side were below their best ahead of next week’s blockbuster with second-placed Macquarie.
“Kurri were very, very good and we had to work for anything that we got,” Lantry said.
“They completed 16 from 16 in the first half and we were at 70 per cent.
“They threw everything bar the kitchen sink at us, which we knew they would, because they were playing for their season and coming to Harker Oval and trying to challenge the team on top.
“We certainly got a tough encounter.
“It was one of those games where we were never really comfortable.
“We were flat and made some significant errors in the second half to complete at 50 per cent, but Kurri just couldn’t crack us defensively and we know going into Macquarie next week, if we are around those numbers, we know Macquarie will really make us pay.
“We’ll be standing behind the goalline more than what we like too.”
Lantry said Wests “forced the issue” in attack at times but he was pleased with their defence.
“As much as were a little off the pace, I thought we showed resilience to hang in there even when things weren’t going right for us and we created enough opportunities still to score 32 points, so that was the pleasing thing,” he said.
“I thought Simon Williams had his best game of the year. He created most of our opportunities down the right side, up against a quality player in Dow-Nikau.
“Ryan Walker had some nice touches to set up tries as well.”
Kurri coach Ron Griffiths had nothing but praise for his squad, who were missing eight players.
“We were certainly in the game for a long period of time, and full credit to our guys because we were extremely understrength,” Griffiths said.
“There’s times when you walk away as coach and you may lose but you’re proud of what your team does and it reinvigorates you.
“It really reinforces the way you coach.
“They had a bit more polish in a few areas and that’s due to the inexperienced line-up we had and with the guys out of position, it wasn’t natural for them.
“Brock Gilmour and Mitch Cullen were two guys who led from the front, as well as Mick Campton and Wyborn.
“The thing for me was the effort from everyone. I was proud of what they did.”
On Sunday, South Newcastle host Macquarie at Townson Oval in the other game of the catch-up weekend.