The Ben Campbell Building Group Seagulls made a statement on Saturday with a decisive 36-8 victory against fifth-placed Norths Devils who had won four games straight.
It their most comprehensive performance of 2019, the Gullies put in an 80-minute effort they seemed to be building towards and outplayed the Devils in just about every aspect after conceding the first try 10 minutes into the game.
Norths coach Rohan Smith gave full credit to the Tweed performance, conceding it was the best performance against his strong team this season by any opponent this season despite it coming in pouring rain during the second half.
And it was certainly the exhibition coach Ben Woolf had been searching for – and knew was in his team.
Here is the context of victory.
Firstly, it came with the Seagulls missing five experienced campaigners in skipper Cheyne Whitelaw, fullback Talor Walters, Titans-contracted halfback Ryley Jacks who was a late withdrawal through injury and bench forwards Shane Gilham and Rory Lillis. The improved depth this season is a real feature of the Gulls’ standing on the ladder.
Secondly, it enhanced the credibility of a team that some still questioned were genuine contenders – their first victory against a side above them on the table this season.
And, impressively, it came off the back of an almost faultless physical defensive effort.
Norths scored their first try from an uncustomary fumble of a grubber kick by Gulls winger Ryland Jacobs, who was outstanding for the rest of the game, and their only other try came from a one-on-one miss (from a strong fend) by centre Ioane Seuili, who was also otherwise strong.
In between, the Devils were well contained and twice Tweed had to defend four successive sets of possession after Norths retained possession from a short kick-off and received successive penalties – yet forced a turnover of possession with relentless defensive pressure both times.
“It was definitely our most complete performance this year, we a lot better than we had been,” said coach Woolf.
“We made very few errors; the only errors were from their short kick-offs and a couple of late in the tackle count errors. We controlled the ball really well which makes a big difference.
“They played plenty of footy, Norths, and kept trying to test us even in the wet but we did a really good job.
“You consider that we ruled Cheyne Whitelaw out on Thursday night and Ryley Jacks on Friday night and had to shuffle the team, yet we still played our best game of the season.
“It showed the depth we have and the ability for different players to come into the side and do their job well.
“It was a very satisfying win against a top five side going into the bye.”
Every one of the Seagulls 17 did their job but there were also some stand-out performances. Halfback Christian Hazard, who’d trained most of the week to play hooker, put in his best performance of the season, scoring a try and setting up two more while being strong in defence.
Prop John Palavi, Norths skipper last season, picked up a try against his former club and was typically tireless and purposeful in all he did. Jack Cook, now an integral part of Woolf’s line-up no matter where he plays, did so much important defensive work and was an influence with his enthusiasm while Lindon McGrady, back at fullback in place of the injured Walters, handled some pressure moment brilliantly, scored a try, played a big role in another and kicked six goals from six attempts.
Jacobs, a prized-metre eater in ‘yardage’, scored two tries and gifted another for Lindon McGrady, while Titan Will Matthews was handy with some decisive things defensively in his first run-out for the season.
After being 4-0 behind after 11 minutes, Jacobs stepped his opposing winger after a shift to the left to open up Tweed’s scoring in the 20th minutes. McGrady converted from touch.
Hazard was next to score four minutes. He bombed to the left and Jacobs fought to get the rebound and three passes later, the last a desperate offload from the ground by Lamar Liolevave, put Hazard over for 12-0 with McGrady’s conversion.
A minute before half-time came the try of the game. The ball was shifted to the left and Jacobs was put into the clear by a cut-out ball from McGrady. Jacobs bumped off two defenders then put a perfectly placed kick towards the tryline with McGrady winning the race for the ball.
That gave the Gulls an 18-4 half-time lead and eight minutes into the second half Hazard effectively broke the Devils’ spirit.
He burst through from dummy half and held up the ball when he came to fullback Jack Ahearn for Jacobs who’d reacted quickly and raced away.
Palavi was rewarded for his wholehearted effort with a try in the 58th minute when he ran into a gap created by Hazard at dummy half after a quick play-the-ball to see the score run out to 30-4.
Norths winger Herbie Farnworth scored in the 65th minute before Tevita Folau rounded off the impressive Tweed performance when he scored from a neat grubber kick by debutant five-eighth Luke Jurd 10 minutes from full-time.
Tweed Seagulls 36 (Jacobs 2, Hazard, McGrady, Palavi, Folau tries; McGrady 6 goals) def. Norths Devils 8 (Penn, Farnworth tries) at Piggabeen Sports Centre.