With a hard-fought, 24-point final round win over a determined Bathurst Bulldogs outfit at Endeavour Oval on Saturday afternoon, Orange Emus became the first team since their cross-city rivals Orange City in 2013 to finish a regular season undefeated.
By no means was it easy, but the greens simply outlasted Bulldogs and ran away with the clash in the final 30 minutes to secure their 18th straight victory of 2017.
After leading 5-0 at half-time Emus ran in another four tries to Bulldogs’ one in the second period to ultimately win 29-5, and also secure their 17th bonus point of the season.
The greens finished with 89 competition points, 15 clear of second-placed Forbes and just one point shy of the maximum a side could earn through 18 rounds.
In a sign of just how dominant the greens have been this season, they finished with the best attacking and defensive records too.
Emus scored a whopping 968 points, 179 more than the next best, and conceded just 146, 100 less than the second-ranked side.
“It’s nice to finish undefeated, it’s a credit to our guys and how much work they’ve put in over the year but the job certainly isn’t done,” Emus coach Paul Ringland said.
“With the injuries we’ve had recently we needed the week off, so hopefully we can use the two-week break we’ve got now to heal up and get some hard work done before the major semi-final.”
Bulldogs co-coach Nathan Pearce heaped praise on Emus following Saturday’s clash, one which took a huge toll on his side physically.
Izaak Breen, Sam Roberson, Jack Roberson and Mark Donnelly were all forced from the field with injuries or head knocks, thanks to the brutal nature of the match-up.
“All credit needs to go to Emus, they’ve had a sensational season,” Pearce said.
“Every week teams play them and say ‘they’re beatable, they’re beatable’ and so far they’ve just kept on proving that, well, they’re not.
“At 5-0 down at half-time I thought we were still in the game, well and truly, and I think we did show at times how you need to play to match it with Emus but they just kept coming.
“I think the last two weeks have shaken our confidence a little bit, losing to Forbes and then Emus and that game’s hit us pretty hard injury wise. We’ll have to take stock of who’s fit this week and go from there before (the elimination semi-final against) Orange City.”
Bulldogs actually looked the better side in the opening 20 minutes or so or, at least, certainly enjoyed a sizable possession advantage.
The blue and gold hoops threw plenty at the greens’ line in the opening exchanges but couldn’t break the wall, Emus doing the same with the little ball they enjoyed early on.
After a full half hour the greens finally opened the scoring, Emus fullback AJ Sykes crossing for a 30th minute try which went unconverted and was the only score of the opening half.
But Bathurst didn’t go away, drawing first blood in the second period through Buzz Webber. It also went unconverted to leave the clash poised at 5-5.
But that’s when injuries started to hit the visitors and as they did, the hosts went to another level.
Mitch Evers went over from a beautiful second-man ball and Tom Green scored a second-half double, either side of Andrew Selwood’s try.
“I was really pleased with the patience we showed,” Ringland said.
“We didn’t panic, we just stuck to our structures and that eventually paid off.
“It was a really good hit-out for us going into the week off and then major semi, Bulldogs gave us some really stiff competition and they’re a quality side.”
Saturday’s clash was another show of Emus’ depth too, a number of second graders helping their side to the minor premiership before backing up and running on in the first grade fixture too.
“It was a big effort from those guys and they’ve earned their week off, they deserve a lot of credit,” Ringland said.
“Lachie Harris does too, he was pretty sick but still went out and played the house down.”
Emus will host either Forbes or Dubbo Kangaroos in the major semi-final at Endeavour Oval in a fortnight, while Bulldogs will host Orange City in the fourth-versus-fifth, elimination play-off on Saturday.
- ORANGE EMUS 29 (Tom Green 2, AJ Sykes, Mitch Evers, Andrew Selwood tries; Evers, Damo Harton conversions) def BATHURST BULLDOGS 5 (Buzz Webber try)