The Open 1 North competition was in full swing on Saturday as Pine Rivers continued their excellent form with a hard-fought 26-16 victory over a gutsy Samford at Matheson Oval.
The Bears sit alone on top of the ladder on 16 points after only dropping one game so far this season.
This game really tested the Bears abilities to the limit. With the scoreboard reading otherwise, Samford were no push overs in this match.
Determined to roll the Bears on home soil, Samford looked promising on a few occasions, however with Pine Rivers being well coached by Darren Price the home side always found that extra spark when needed.
A good halfback pairing can often be the backbone of a successful rugby league team and in Pine Rivers’ case Jacob Laack and Jackson Dunell are a true testament to this.
The Bears seem to have a duo that can steer them to success in any game and this one was no different as the pairing were simply sensational.
It would be Laack who would send in second row forward Riley Thompson for the first try of the match as he beautifully edged a neat off-the-hip pass to see the burly second rower crash his way over the line.
Goal kicker Hayden Potter, who is simply a fine striker of the ball, made no mistake with the sideline conversion sending the Bears to an early 6-0 lead.
With a smallish crowd on hand, these two sides certainly delivered entertainment value. The Stags were simply aggressive in defence and clinical in attack had numerous try scoring opportunities throughout out the first half, but the Bears rock solid defence was granite-like on their own goal line.
Samford’s Dane Watson and second rower Brett Hadaway proved handfuls, as did tireless hooker Greg Heath who guided his side around the Park all afternoon.
It would only take a mere minute before the Bears would go over again.
Straight from the kick off replacement player Henry Katipa bustled his way through the Stags defence into open space to find Laack on his outside who brilliantly delivered a pass to his winger Lachlan Sushames who squeezed over in the corner.
Potter again landed a magnificent sideline conversion.
In somewhat tricky conditions as light rain started to fall, a glut of dropped ball was creeping in and this would prove pivotal for the Stags as Pine Rivers turned the ball over early on in the tackle count.
Winger Mitch Singleton couldn’t believe his luck when he scooped up a loose ball to race away and score in the corner just before the halftime break.
Further tries to Pine Rivers’ winger Tamaki Te Muon and for Samford’s hooker Greg Heath had this game for anybody’s taking.
With the Stags on the comeback trail, the Bears headed into the sheds leading 16-10.
There was little to separate both sides in the opening exchanges in the second half with both teams absolutely brutal in defence. Both sets of forwards were on a demolition mission from the outset and some players lay prostrate on the ground injured from the sheer physicality of the game.
It would be however Pine Rivers prop Bryce Turner to stop the rot – he bulldozed his way over for the first try in the second stanza.
The usually-reliable Potter missed with the easy shot at goal but still had the Bears in a comfortable 20-10 lead.
But despite the best efforts of the Bears defence on their own goaline, they would prove to be human after all. Samford’s rugged second rower Mick Graham wound up on a damaging run with the head down and went in to score beside the posts.
At 20-16 the Stags could smell a comeback and this try gave them a much needed boost of confidence.
With Bears’ coach Price rallying his troops from the sideline, his astute replacement of players was a masterstroke as the Bears gained some much needed momentum up the middle.
This was courtesy of replacements Nick Bradbury and Gabe Yates who put their bodies on the line for the Bears when coming on.
A surge up field was all it needed to get into some good field position and this would be the nail in the coffin for the Stags who let halfback Dunell sell a few dummies to jink his way over beside the posts.
Potter landed the easiest of conversions with the Bears holding on in a thriller, running out winners 26-16.