Last night’s Round 12 clash between Casuarina and South Darwin was billed as a Grand Final preview and was played with all the intensity of a finals match in an entertaining match at Rugby Park.
The Cougars remained undefeated following a 28-10 victory over the Rabbits and are well and truly on track to defend their Premiership after their third win over Souths this season.
An early penalty to fly half Nate Lamb gave the Cougars a lead and most of the first half was played at the Rabbitohs end of the ground.
Casuarina were unable to crack the Souths defence nor were the Rabbitohs able to breach the Cougars line in an absorbing struggle early in the game.
Rhys Mullholland was only player to cause the Cougars to scramble with two incisive line breaks but the ensuing phases resulted in nothing.
A further penalty goal to Lamb gave Casuarina a 6-0 lead at half time in a torrid 40 minute period that saw Zac Phillips, David Boyle and Owen Griggs all spending time in the blood bin.
Phillips returned briefly but was opened up again and took no further part in the game.
Early in the second half Casuarina moved into Souths territory with ease and Lamb’s third penalty gave them a 9-0 lead.
An intercept by Joe Tuhakaraina created a try for Tom Hiramatsu in the corner and reduced the Bunnies deficit to four points.
Twenty minutes into the second half replacement centre Luke Cummins set up a 40 metre break by Simaika Salaa who drew Mullholland and had Cummins backing up to score.
Souths bounced back almost immediately with a try to Whittmer Tuputala but still trailed by four when Keegan Neale missed the conversion.
After being held up over the line Casuarina scored a vintage push-over try from the ensuing scrum by their number eight Joe Albert.
Matt Weyers took over the kicking duties and was successful with the conversion to give the Cougars a 21-10 lead.
Skipper Aaron Rudduck scored on the last play of the match and with Weyers conversion Casuarina were up by eighteen in a match that was far more even than the score suggested.
The Cougars were again well served by half back Sam Batty whose composure when the team was under pressure was instrumental in the result achieved by his side.
In the early game Palmerston’s four first half tries and a 22-3 lead at the break was the catalyst for Palmerston to set up a solid 53-3 victory over Swampdogs and only a mathematical phenomenon will deny them a finals berth after successive wooden spoons.
Unforced errors and an inability to quickly realign in defence after turnovers continues to hamper the Swampdogs quest for an elusive victory in their debut season back in the top grade.
The Swampdogs pack matched their opponents every inch of the way however it was the Palmerston backs in broken play that wreaked havoc.
Captain Anthony Smith made numerous breaks but the star of the show was winger Garry Keppel with two tries and numerous breaks and was unpassable in defence.
Their youthful playing roster should benefit from a tough season and be quite competitive in 2015.
Whilst both sides boast plenty of youth in their ranks, the Crocs called on veteran prop Dennis Bree to come off the bench at half time just days shy of his 62nd Birthday.
Third placed University accounted for fifth placed Dragons 52-17 with relative ease.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby