Henson Park was the place to be last Saturday if you wanted to see spine-tingling finishes to senior Rugby League games. In the NSW Cup heritage round curtain-raiser, Western Suburbs defeated North Sydney 29-28 in a match where the lead changed hands several times.
In the main game Newtown led 30-18 against a 12-man Balmain outfit with less than 15 minutes remaining, but the Tigers fought back with two converted tries and a late field goal to claim this inaugural MUA Solidarity Cup challenge match by the narrowest of margins, 31-30.
Newtown led 20-12 at halftime and looked to be in command in the latter stages of the first half. The Jets scored three tries in the last ten minutes and had recorded a high completion rate. Midway through the second half the Jets were in pole position with a 30-18 lead, but crucial errors and penalties in the last 15 minutes gifted the Tigers vital possession and territory that enabled last year's Grand Finalists to snatch this result in the game's final minutes. Newtown scored six tries to five but the Tigers did the simple things better at the business end of the game. Newtown coach Greg Matterson was left to ponder the lost competition points from a game that definitely slipped away from the Blues. He noted that the crucial mistakes and penalties in the last ten minutes proved to be the ultimate difference between the sides, and that his Jets needed to quickly adopt the mental toughness and ruthless team discipline that provides the winning edge in games of this calibre.
The Jets were best served by Jason Baitieri, Ryan Verlinden and Ray Moujalli in the forwards and by Troy Savage, Kane Linnett and Chris Tuatara-Morrison in the backline. Savage was judged to be Newtown's best player award winner as he maintains the strong form that he showed in the pre-season trials.
The Newtown club extends thanks to the Maritime Union of Australia for their generous game day sponsorship on Saturday. The MUA Solidarity Cup will continue to be contested between the Newtown and Balmain clubs whenever they play at Henson Park. Last Saturday's match was also the first leg in the 2010 Ryan-Pringle Shield challenge series between the two pioneer clubs.
The Newtown Jets get the chance to make amends for last Saturday's loss when they take on another fellow 1908 foundation club in North Sydney at Henson Park next Saturday, with this match timed for kick-off at 3.00pm. This game will be the first leg of the 2010 Frank Hyde Shield challenge series.