THE Muswellbrook Heelers will enter the Newcastle-Hunter Rugby Union divisional play-offs in strong form after accounting for Merewether Carlton at Highbrook Park at the weekend.
With the club celebrating its annual Ladies Day, the defending champions accounted for their fourth-placed rivals 25-12.
The occasion was also an opportunity to announce how the proceeds of the Memorial Day auction would be spent.
A $10,000 cheque was presented to the Young family on behalf of the MND NSW Foundation.
"The event produced donations just over $18,000, with the remaining money to fund some accessibility improvements to the clubhouse," coach Michael Hall said.
"A massive thank you to everyone involved in the Memorial Day auction.
"Over the past five years, the Muswellbrook Rugby Union Football Club has donated more than $40,000 to local charities and foundations.
"It's a fantastic achievement for the club, its supporters and sponsors."
With the Heelers now semi-final bound, Hall said the side had endured a staggered end to the regular season rounds.
"Three games in six weeks have been tough," he admitted.
"And, the lack of game time and training was evident on the field in the past two outings.
"A tough, scrappy victory from behind against Pokolbin a fortnight ago was followed by a similar disjointed triumph over Merewether Carlton.
"But, as they say, a win is a win and it is positive that the team can prevail while not playing its best."
The latest fixture began with the Heelers racing out of the blocks.
Harry Hobden ran strongly early, easily penetrating the Greens' half.
Not letting his brother get all the accolades, Will Hodben joined him with some good runs.
The early field position was capitalised on by captain Cameron Young, who slotted two penalty conversions after Merewether Carlton infringements.
The rivals pulled the uncontested scrum card, defusing a usual attacking platform from the Heelers and it was disappointing to see from the outset, especially when there looked to be a few experience forwards running around.
At 6-0, Muswellbrook had the lead, but the game fell into the grind and the Greens started to claw back territory.
Their younger, fitter side began to stretch the Heelers' normally resolute defence, with the home side falling off some tackles.
Merewether Carlton missed some penalty opportunities to even the score and, with the encounter in the balance, the referee called time on the first half.
The chat at the break for the Heelers was all about commitment and attitude.
The second period witnessed five tries, three to the hosts and two to the Greens.
The grinding game was still there for most of the stanza, but the early tries from Will Hobden and Ben Heriot were enough to dampen the Merewether Carlton spirits and put the match out of reach.
A late try to Beau Haywood sealed the win and a better second half for the home side.
The Greens had a solid game, pushing the Heelers all the way to the final whistle.
The victory consolidated Muswellbrook's second position on the ladder after the Waratahs secured the minor premiership for the second consecutive year, with Easts in close pursuit.
With one round remaining, Merewether Carlton and Pokolbin are fighting for fourth and fifth spots.
Coach's points -
1: Will Hobden and Cameron Young
2: Harry Hobden and Elliot Serhan
3: Heath Talbot
Harry Hobden was awarded players' player in a tight contest with Serhan and Talbot.
After a bye this weekend, the Heelers will kick off their finals campaign by hosting the qualifying finals of the Presidents Cup at Highbrook Park on Saturday, August 24.
"This will be a double-header," Hall said.
"Matches between the fourth and fifth-placed sides, as well as second versus third, are scheduled to be played at Muswellbrook.
"It's a great opportunity for the club to showcase our facilities and terrific exposure for our sponsors.
"More information will be provided closer to the event, but please pencil August 24 into your calendar."