Norths Devils scoffed lunch on the bus on the way to the ground and then opened their Hostplus Cup season with an impressive 38-14 win over the Blackhawks in Townsville today.
Covid restrictions forced the Devils into a hit-run visit to Townsville, arriving in the steamy conditions just over two hours before kickoff.
With time running out leaving the airport, the Devils stopped into a sandwich stop and loaded up on lunch before beginning their new season with a quality win.
The Devils, playing for the first time since October’s stirring grand final win, scored in the third minute when Broncos forward Brendan Piakura grabbed a deflected attacking kick from Tyrone Roberts.
The Devils almost had another try two minutes later when co-captain Jack Ahearn sliced through from long range but the Blackhawks stopped the movement on the tryline.
That set the theme for a seven-try haul from Norths with the Blackhawks scoring twice late after the Devils surged to a 34-6 lead with 20 minutes remaining.
The visitors closed out the game when edge forward Moses Noovao-McGreal scored his second try with 15 seconds left, touching down a catch-and-kick from Ahearn that again showcased the Devils’ attacking skill.
Coach Rohan Smith has put together a squad with new faces this season.
Since the grand final, four Devils have taken up fulltime contracts in the NRL and England.
Nine of the Devils’ grand final squad of 17 players took the field today.
Kierran Moseley, Brayden McGrady and Sam Lavea made their Devils debuts while Rashaun Denny shifted into the wing spot that had belonged to Dragons NRL recruit Jon Reuben.
Denny scored twice today including a try in the 59th minute, pictured, that any winger would be happy to claim, bumping through two tackle efforts to plant the ball in the corner.
Popular Devil Brendan Frei returned to footy for the first time since a knee reconstruction last May while Viko Puliuvea powered through 60 minutes of work in the middle despite temperatures that reached 32 degrees when the match started.
Both teams were denied a break for a water stop midway through the halves, meaning the 40 minutes’ constant play in the heat tested the players. The Devils withstood it well, using only two substitutions in the first half as they built a 24-6 lead.
Roberts, kicking his first five conversions, and Ahearn provided the Devils’ direction in attack while the slick attacking combinations that fuelled last season’s premiership were evident early.
The Devils squandered some attacking opportunities but kept the Blackhawks at arm’s length before a solid crowd at Jack Manski Oval.
“We know that Round 1 is a starting point so we wanted to set our path for the season ahead,” Smith said.
“It’s always a test playing a team like the Blackhawks at home, particularly in March, but we looked forward to the challenge.
“There’s a long way to go this season. We’re playing our first home game next weekend against a very good team that lost last night so we know they will be ready.”
The Devils host the Redcliffe Dolphins at Bishop Park next Sunday afternoon.
NORTHS DEVILS 38 (Rashaun Denny 2, Moses Noovao-McGreal 2, Brendan Piakura, Matthew Milson, Brayden McGrady tries, Tyrone Roberts 5 goals) bt TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 14 (Josh Chudleigh, Kalifa Faifai-Loa, Tomas Chester tries, Michael Bell goal) at Jack Manski Oval.
Photo by Alan Drinnen