Norths Devils had another taste of life as the defending champions when PNG Hunters took them to the wire in a tense Hostplus Cup clash in Toowoomba today.
The Devils withstood a barrage from the Hunters in the last 90 seconds in the driving rain to deliver a maiden win for new co-coaches Ben King and Kevin Neighbour.
The 28-24 final score was the Devils’ 24th win from their last 27 matches. They share top spot on the ladder after six rounds.
It’s a stunning record in modern Cup history but teams have been coming hard for the Devils this season.
Winless Ipswich Jets were alive until the last 90 seconds of the Devils’ last clash while the Hunters made them work hard today.
The Devils surged in the first half, steaming to a 22-6 lead after 28 minutes when co-captain Jack Ahearn found fullback Matthew Milson for a cracking try.
The Devils piled on three tries in 10 minutes in a show of the attacking power that floored heavyweights Townsville Blackhawks in Round 1.
Ahearn’s halves partner Connor Broadhurt was also strong in attack, taking the No.6 jersey late after Tyrone Roberts was ruled out last night.
Quality backrower Brendan Frei racked up another two tries while skilful winger Brendan McGrady also grabbed a double including a crucial 68th minute try in the corner from an Ahearn kick.
Ahearn’s bloodied mouth was a sign of the physical nature of the clash.
Broncos forward Brendan Piakura, playing his second game of the year, left the field after 13 minutes with a head knock and didn’t return.
On the bright side, Tony Tumusa returned for his first match in 10 months after recovering from a snapped Achilles.
Forward Jayden Stephens made his debut for the Devils in the second half as the pace of the game slowed and the Hunters edged back into the contest.
“We have been tested and forced to dig deep,” Neighbour said.
“You don’t know what you’ve got as a team until you’re really tested and the players stuck together today when PNG were coming at us.
“This is a quality competition and every game is tough to win.”
Since the Devils last played two weeks ago, coach Rohan Smith left for the UK to take up a contract with Leeds Rhinos while powerful forward Ben Nakubuwai accepted a fulltime contract with Leigh Centurions in England.
With the guidance of King and Neighbour and the calmness of a leadership group featuring the likes of Ahearn and Michael Sio, the Devils have pushed on.
They return home for consecutive matches against the Capras next Saturday for Ladies’ Day followed by a clash with Brisbane Tigers on May 22.
Earlier, the Devils Colts won their second consecutive match with a 58-12 victory over the Western Clydesdales.
The Devils scored 10 tries including three to captain Hayden Rowbotham and two to Declan Haydon. Coach Rhett Tronc’s team has won two of its three matches this season.
NORTHS DEVILS 28 (Brendan Frei 2, Brayden McGrady 2, Matthew Milson tries, Connor Broadhurst three goals) bt PNG HUNTERS 24 (Solo Wane, Brandon Nima, Terry Wapi, Kingstimer Paraia tries, Paraia 4 goals) at Clive Berghofer Stadium, Toowoomba.