Norths will give its walking wounded as much time as possible to recover from last night’s defensive fight against Northern Pride before taking on the toughest test in the Hostplus Cup.
The Devils battled without making a replacement for the last 25 minutes in Cairns, bravely fending off the Pride 26-22 to improve their season record to 7-3.
The night started brilliantly for the Devils with three converted tries in the first 22 minutes. A penalty goal eight minutes later pushed the premiers ahead 20-0.
But nothing comes easily for the Devils in 2022.
Playmaker Tyrone Roberts (leg) did not return after halftime while co-captain Michael Sio (chest) and centre Jacob Gagan (leg) left the field in the second half.
Other Devils players finished the match with injuries that would have normally forced them off but they stayed to repel a Pride team that had scored tries in the 34th, 39th and 44th minutes.
Devils co-captain Jack Ahearn marshalled his troops at both ends of the field in the second half, helping Norths deliver the most telling blow in the game.
Ahearn went right and found Broncos-contracted forward Brendan Piakura stepping through a Pride tackle in the 50th minute for the try that would eventually prove the difference.
That was the end of the Devils’ scoring for the night although several near misses over the line would have made the trip to the tropics more comfortable.
The Pride had multiple chances to take the lead but the Devils defended their line with the desperation that has delivered them 26 wins from their last 31 matches. The Pride were kept scoreless in the last 20 minutes.
Norths will monitor the progress of its wounded players before settling on its team to play competition leaders Burleigh Bears on the road next Sunday.
Despite the injury uncertainty, the Devils will relish the challenge against the team that sits on top of the table.
“We have a real squad outlook at Norths and we know that the next-man-up is always ready to go for us. That’s been critical to how we’ve played for a few seasons now and it’s served us very well,” Devils co-coach Ben King said.
“The defence on our try line was really pleasing last night because we were down on numbers and the Pride had their backs up.
“The way that our players defended the line shows how they play for each other.
“We played perhaps the best footy of our season in the first 20 minutes but we still had to fight hard to win that game.”
The Devils enjoyed the dry-weather football, scoring in the third minute when Connor Broadhurst speared a pass to Gagan who found winger Brayden McGrady for a sharp try.
Nine minutes later, Broncos-contracted forward Xavier Willison continued his impressive return from a knee injury when he stormed over from close to the line.
Leivaha Pulu’s barging try in the 22nd minute had the Devils hoping they could match their last trip north when they scored seven tries against the Townsville Blackhawks in Round 1.
Devils forward Sam Lavea did not travel north due to illness – Willison, Liam Horne and Jayden Stephens started in the front row – while former Manly NRL forward Lloyd Perrett made his club debut from the bench after two hitouts in the Brisbane Rugby League competition.
Glenn McGrady was shuffled into the attack when Roberts left the field, joining Pulu, Tony Tumusa and Rashaun Denny on the left edge. Tumusa pinched the ball in one-on-one tackles three times last night.
Moses Noovao-McGreal’s versatility also assisted King and co-coach Kevin Neighbour as they worked around Gagan’s injury while Viko Puluivea gave 60 minutes off the bench.
The Devils took on former teammate Brendan Frei who made his debut for the Pride after he was signed mid-season to an NRL contract by the North Queensland Cowboys.
Earlier in the day, the Devils had a strong 50-22 win over the Pride in the Hastings Deering Colts clash.
Blayden Dodd and Zac Brooks each scored three tries while Ryan Papas finished with 18 points from two tries and five conversions as the Devils edged to the brink of the top eight.
The scores had been tied at 16-all at halftime before Norths scored in the first minute of the second half. Six tries followed in good conditions in Cairns.
NORTHS DEVILS 26 (Brayden McGrady, Xavier Willison, Leivaha Pulu, Brendan Piakura tries, Connor Broadhurst 3 goals, Tyrone Roberts 2 goals) bt NORTHERN PRIDE 22 (Ash Little 2, Lata Fakalelu, Julian Christian tries, Tom Steadman 3 goals) at Barlow Park.
Photo by Alan Drinnen