Wests have moved into first place in the Monarch Blues Tag after a lockout win over Kurri Kurri. Image via Trish Evenden. More photos available at www.trishevenden.com

Wests continued their unbeaten start to their title defence on Saturday afternoon, locking out Kurri Kurri at Harker Oval to claim their second straight victory on the bounce in 2019.

Chris Stephens’ side was ravaged with absences in the second round of the Monarch Blues Tag season, with key figures like halves star Olivia Higgins off playing for Rick Stones’ 13-a-side CRL Newcastle in the NSW Women’s Premiership.

Despite that, the Rosellas rose to the occasion against a Bulldogs side “beefing up” to challenge the champions. Kurri Kurri came out of the blocks firing against Wests, but in the end it was the home side that had the lion’s share of tries in the 26-nil win.

Emily Coppens and Sarah Ross both struck on the flanks for Wests, with the notching one each, while veteran commanders Nicole Stanfield and Rhianni Cipta both added to the eventual five-try to nil haul.

There are dozens of photos from the Wests vs Kurri Kurri game for sale at www.trishevenden.com.

Considering the depleted champions had brought a few juniors up through the ranks, Stephens said he was pleased with how his side responded to the challenge heralded by the Bulldogs.

“The girls stood up well, considering we had a couple of players out with Rick Stones’ Newcastle side,” he said. “Kurri have improved markedly coming into this year so it was good to get the win over them.

“There’s not a game that’s going to go past this season I think that the other team won’t beef up against us because we’re the champions. We expect them all to come at us 100 percent ready to play, and Kurri did that today with their challenge.”

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Two of the players that rose to the test for the Rosellas were Stanfiel and Cipta, both of whom were an integral part of the team’s title tilt last time around.

“Nicole is getting on towards the older end of the stick now, but she’s still just as fantastic as ever, she’s a great level-headed player for us and she brings a lot of experience,” Stephens said.

“Rhianni is another veteran player that is always the first to push that ball forward and make us the ground that we need. They’re both quality players that took hold of the game for us, and got us where we needed to go, especially when we were down a lot of playing numbers this weekend.”

Also on the weekend, Maitland kept level with the leaders after a 14-nil win over the Nelson Bay Sharks. The Pickers victory puts them second on point difference, after they scored a tight 12-4 win in the opening round.

Elsewhere, Lakes United knocked over the Goannas at the Cessnock Sportsground to make it two from two in 2019, while Souths piled on the points against Macquarie in a 56-nil romp at Townson Oval that saw the Lionesses score their first in of the season. Central Newcastle had the bye in the second round.

TABLE: Wests, Maitland, Lakes, Central 4; Souths, Kurri, 2; Nelson Bay, Cessnock, Macquarie 0