Sarah Dodds offloads the ball as Bobbi Laws bears down on her. Image via Trish Evenden.

Central have moved into sole possession of first in the Newcastle Rugby League Blues Tag competition, after knocking over previously undefeated leaders Wests 12-10 in a tight battle at Harker Oval that was “decided on defensive efforts.”

The Rosellas, who had not conceded a point in 2019 ahead of the narrow loss to the Butcher Birds on Sunday morning, were the first off the mark at home. Central were able to grind their way back into the contest however, chalking up the first 12 points Wests have conceded all year to collect their fourth win of the season.

Tegan Glover and Chelsea Hindmarsh were the tryscorers for Central Newcastle in their win, with the first four-pointer coming after a half-field sprint saw Hindmarsh break away from the chasing Wests pack to score to the left of the sticks. Then Glover scored late, busting past two off the back of a kick penalty tap to give Central back the lead.

Central coach Joel Sklenar said he was particularly happy with his side’s efforts off the ball, and said he felt the “back to basics” gameplan for the girls against the Rosellas laid a path for their table-defining victory.

“We always know Wests are a hard game to come in to, so it’s good to see the girls stood up and put in such a solid performance. It’s always a good feeling to come away from Harker Oval with points, in any league,” Sklenar said.

“There was a lot of camraderie for backing each other on Sunday, we were behind on the scoreboard for a good part of the game and so it was just key that we stuck together and kept to the structures we had planned. I don’t think we showed anything too special, we just stuck to our basics and it got us over the line.”

Central are now the only team left in the Blues Tag competition yet to record a loss in 2019.

While the grinding nature of the low-scoring game meant defence was a pivotal part of the battle against the defending champions, Sklenar also pointed to Blanche Morrissey, and the kicking game she brought for Charlestown, as a “phenomenal” part of the team’s go-forward in the second half of the game.

“Blanche’s kicking game was pretty phenomenal out there, kicking has been one of our poorer efforts so far in 2019 so for her to stand up and take control of that meant a lot for us in terms of getting the result,” the Central boss said. “Our other stand-out was Tegan Glover, who scored the winning try for Wests in the grand final last year. She’s just gone from strength to strength in the past few years.”

While Central’s two-point win also keeps them as the only undefeated team in the Blues Tag competition thanks to their 4-0 record, the Butcher Birds coach remained humble about his side’s title chances.

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“We can’t really carry on about being in top right now because it’s so early in the year,” he told the Chronicle. “It’s handy, don’t get me wrong at all, but there’s no point putting that pressure on ourselves just yet.

“The top four teams – Souths, Wests, Lakes, and us – talk for themselves when it comes to bidding for titles, but all the teams in the league have proven they’re major threats this season. If we stick to our defensive structures, that will keep us in the good as we continue forward in the league.”

Earlier in the round, Amy Waterhorse scored a double for Souths to guide them to an 18-10 win over the Pickers at the Maitland Sportsground, while Lakes defeated Nelson Bay with a 32-nil victory at the Salamander Sports Ground.

Finally, Cessnock rounded out a weekend full of away-team victories, knocking over the Macquare Scorpions 42-nil off the back of four tries for Isabella Garvie. Mykenzie Rowe scored two of her own in the nine-try win.

STANDINGS: Central (12), Souths, Wests, (10), Lakes, Kurri (8), Maitland (6), Cessnock, Nelson Bay (4), Macquarie (2).