Western Suburbs were without three big names and lost strike centre Ryan Walker to a hamstring injury but still sent an ominus warning to rival clubs about their premiership credentials on Saturday.
The Rosellas, with Knights lower-grader Jack Johns debuting off the bench, scored three rapid-fire second half tries to put leaders Lakes United away before eventually winning 28-22 despite missing key forwards Ben Stone and Tama Koopu and halfback Ryan Stig.
Walker limped off early in the second half with a hamstring strain that is expected to sideline him for at least a couple of matches but it had little impact on the result.
Locked at 12-all at the break, fullback Sam Keenan stood out as the Rosellas raced to a 28-12 lead before letting in a couple of late tries.
“Three quick tries crushed any momentum they had but I was still disappointed in the way we finished,”Wests coach Matt Lantry said.
Rival coach Todd Edwards said the win reinforced who the team is to beat. “They are the benchmark without doubt,”he said.
In other matches on Saturday, Maitland grabbed top spot on percentages from Lakes and Wests [game in hand] after a 32-20 win over Souths, Kurri toughed out a 14-6 win over Cessnock in the Coalfields derby and Macquarie scored late to snatch a 22-all draw with Central.
Kurri broke a three game losing streak to edge out the Goannas after leading 14-0 at halftime in a win highlighted by the return from injury of playmaker Jade Porter.
“It was Jade’s first game in eight weeks and we were a bit clunky in attack with a new spine but we defended well for each other,”Bulldogs coach Ron Griffiths said.
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The never-say-die attitude of Macquarie forward Todd Hurrell saw the Scorpions snatch a vital premiership point off Central.
Trailing 22-18 with less than a minute left and Central in possession, Hurrell pinched the ball off Cameron Anderson in a one-on-one strip with his side scoring in the corner two plays later.
Scott Briggs had a chance to win it after the bell but his conversion sailed wide.
Central’s Marcel Ikinofo is on report for a knee lift.
“The boys showed enormous character to get something out of it,”Scorps coach Adam Bettridge said.
Maitland coach Luke Dorn praised the efforts of debutants Jeremy Gibson and Cody Clulow off the bench as the Pickers made it three wins on the trot in beating Souths without key forwards Dane Tilse and Jacob Sinclair.
“We knew we had to be right up for it because Souths’ recent form had been really good and all the boys responded,” Dorn said.