Riding high after a 39-5 win over Pokolbin Reds, Muswellbrook Heelers now turn attention to Newcastle-Hunter Rugby Union divisional front-runners The Waratahs

Pic: Lorraine-Lee Photography

Pic: Lorraine-Lee Photography

THE Muswellbrook Heelers are determined to maintain their lofty position on the Newcastle-Hunter Rugby Union divisional ladder this weekend - before the competition splits into two.

But, the defending premiers face a difficult assignment, front-runners The Waratahs at Newcastle.

"That's where our attention now turns to," club president Michael Hall said.

"The Waratahs are again the benchmark and the only blemish on their season is a round four 19-all draw with Easts.

"This grand final rematch will be important for both sides.

"We're sitting third on the table and a win will consolidate our spot.

"A loss, however, results in a congested ladder where five teams are fighting for three positions to go into the Presidents Cup rounds.

"The Waratahs and Easts are not that far ahead, but seem to have secured their berths."

Despite being a man down for more than half the game, the Heelers put in a gutsy performance against the Pokolbin Reds to win 39-5 on Saturday.

The victory allowed Muswellbrook to leap-frog several rivals.

With a good crowd in attendance, both sides were confident they would walk away with the triumph.

The Reds, sitting above the Heelers on the ladder and with the home ground advantage and recent success over Southern Lakes, were rightly favourites on the day.

But, Muswellbrook had much to play for.

After salvaging a draw in their previous hit-out against Merewether Carlton, the Heelers were confident of rounding up some of the teams above them on the table, hoping to close-out this part of the competition as high as they can.

From the outset, Muswellbrook showed it was there to play tough.

Their line speed was good, their one-on-one defence effective and they were able to penetrate deep into Pokolbin territory.

The visitors went 3-0 up early on the back of a penalty conversion by Cameron Young.

Building pressure in both attack and defence, the Heelers soon crossed the line courtesy of a great run by Beau Haywood.

Another soon followed for winger Anthony Grech.

Swooping on a grounded, scrappy pass, the Regan Campbell-Gillard lookalike ran 15m to score out wide.

The 15-0 margin would hold until the interval.

The fixture became a bit scrappy - and a bit heated.

The Heelers continued to press into the Reds' half but dropped ball and knock-ons from both sides frustrated the players.

The last 10 minutes of the period was fractured by scrums and a bit of foul play.

An off-the-ball incident close to the Pokolbin tryline saw each team come together.

Finally parting the sides, the referee continued with the game only to have another melee erupt shortly after.

This one spilled over the sideline and, once again, the two combatants went head-to-head.

This time the referee somehow found only one guilty player and handed Muswellbrook number 1 Harry Hobden a red card.

Play resumed but the break was fast approaching, and the score stayed the same but both sides upped the intensity until the whistle blew.

The simple message from the coaching staff was to forget the first half and play for the season, not the game.

The aim for the day was a bonus point win and losing players was not going to help that cause.

With a few of the seniors leading the way and calming the others, the focus returned to rugby.

The Heelers, despite being reduced to 14 men, showed tremendous resilience and courage, outplaying the Reds and frustrating them out of the encounter.

Still scrappy through parts, the match was dominated by scrums and the seven-man forward pack stood proud to give the backs opportunities with the ball.

Four second half tries showed what the team can do with ball-in-hand and everyone across the park stepped up to hold the defensive line.

Pokolbin scored late in the game but the consolation try basically ended the fixture at 39-5 to the Heelers.

Tryscorers for the day were Haywood (2), Grech, Mitchell Serhan, Mitchell Fagan and Jacob Marshall.

Young had a mixed day with the boot, hitting three of the six conversions and one penalty.

Coach's points: 1 Elliot Serhan and Doug Raphael; 2 Beau Haywood; 3 Mark Snow

Players' player: Beau Haywood