THE Muswellbrook Heelers kicked off their first game of the Newcastle-Hunter Rugby Union split competition with a convincing 28-0 win over the Easts at Dangar Park on Saturday.
With most grounds closed in Newcastle, the Heelers were hopeful the venue would also be unplayable due to the wet conditions and offer up Highbrook as an alternative.
But, Dangar Park held up well and the rain stayed away for most of the fixture to allow the contest to go ahead.
Beaten 38-17 in round three, Muswellbrook was keen to redeem itself for the early season loss and, after having a recent win over the first-placed Waratahs, the lads were champing at the bit to have another crack at Easts.
In the first half, the hosts realised quickly that the Heelers' defence was going to be difficult and began kicking the ball, playing for field position in the damp conditions.
However, Muswellbrook absorbed the pressure well.
The Easts forward pack was quick on the ball at the breakdown, securing their own and disrupting the Heelers.
Muswellbrook lost Ben Heriot early.
But, it was the Heelers who posted the first points of the half through Cameron Young.
From a scrum deep into Easts territory, Muswellbrook kept the play tight and worked closer to the line through some tough runs and good support.
This allowed the captain to score a typically sneaky halfback's try off the back of a ruck.
Young then converted his own try to take the score to 7-0.
The first half was very disjointed for both teams.
The game was given no chance to flow and each side got more frustrated.
That led both teams to assist the referee, who in turn had a few conversations with the captains.
It was clear whoever settled into the game and played rugby would win the showdown.
The Heelers went to the break with a narrow 7-0 lead, but they were down to one reserve player through injuries, so the final 30 minutes of the fixture was going to be a test.
Unfortunately, the second half was punctuated by Easts' ill-discipline.
The referee's earlier warnings were clearly not heeded and, within seven minutes, the home team lost the first of three players to yellow cards.
One of them was the Easts' captain and the side's play began to suffer.
The Heelers took advantage of the reduced numbers, managing to score two converted tries.
It wasn't until 23 minutes into the half that Easts were back to their full complement, but the damage was done.
The score was now 21-0, with time running out.
Easts threw everything at the Heelers, but their defence held strong.
To rub salt into their wounds, Muswellbrook then managed to score a try close to full-time to grab the bonus point and win 28-0.
"It's a very pleasing result for us," coach Michael Hall said.
"It now places the team in outright second spot on the ladder.
"The whole side put in a great effort.
"There were a few mistakes and our set piece wasn't anywhere near its best, but you couldn't fault their determination.
"The defence was solid, everyone got off the line quickly and made their tackles.
"A zero scoreline against any squad is a great accomplishment."
Tryscorers on the day were Young, Will Hobden, James Hawkins and Harry Hobden.
Young also landed all four conversions, including two from the sideline.
3 - Will Hobden, Nathan Cridland
2 - Harry Hobden, Cameron Young, Isaac Scholes
1 - Heath Talbot, Nathan Wolters
Players' player: Will Hobden, Cameron Young
Muswellbrook's momentum will be halted somewhat, with a full round bye this weekend.
"The next match for the Heelers is a home game and grand final replay against the Waratahs on July 20," Hall said.
"This top of the table clash is sure to be a great encounter and I encourage everyone to come along and support the boys."