ALBION Park-Oak Flats Eagles started their 2014 season on a winning note, with an entertaining 38-26 win against the Port Kembla Blacks at Centenary Field on Saturday night.
Both sides went out with a point to prove after having seasons they would rather forget in 2013 and they did not disappoint in front of a large, vocal crowd.
While it was not the most polished performance, there was always plenty of action, with big hits, freakish tries and a bit of niggle, with both sides having a player sent off in the second half.
The Blacks went out with plenty of enthusiasm early on, but were on the back foot for most of the first half, with the home side dominating field position.
The game was little more than five minutes old when veteran Eagles centre Sean Jenkins crossed for their first try and Matt Carroll nailed a sideline conversion to give them a 6-nil lead.
The Blacks first real chance came after 20 minutes when Mark Simon went over in the corner, only to be called back for a forward pass.
After being let out of jail, the Eagles made a swift response and were soon threatening the Blacks line again.
A second try soon followed, when a grubber kick took an unlucky deflection off one of the Blacks players and fell into the waiting hands of Eagles halfback Matt Carroll, right under the sticks.
The home side had their third soon after, with a well-placed kick from Matt Carroll holding up perfectly for Blake Jones to score in the corner.
Trailing 16-nil, the Blacks needed a bit of luck to get back in the game and they got it when an awkward kick from halfback Josh Maude bounced off the post pad and Nathan Michalowski won the race to the ball to score under the posts.
The Blacks looked to have gained a bit of momentum in the back end of the first half, before they were reduced to 12 men after Ben Dove was sent to the sin bin.
The Eagles took advantage, with Simon Harris and Jack Middleton crossing late in the first half, to stretch their lead to 26-6 at the break.
The 20-point buffer would ultimately prove to be the difference, with a much more determined Blacks outfit unable to make up the deficit in the second half.
They were the first to score after the break, when winger Sifa Hala crossed in the corner to make it 26-10, but suffered a setback when Ben Dove, who had only recently returned from the sin bin, was penalised again and earned an early shower.
It was soon 12 on 12, when Derek Gray was given his marching orders for a high shot on Mark Simon and that gave the Blacks their first sniff when Tane Sturmey scored their third try to make it 26-16.
But it wasn’t long before the Eagles were given a reprieve, with a knock on coming from the first play after the kick off.
The Eagles added another when Shane Faricy scored right in front of the posts and put the final nail in the coffin, when Jenkins crossed for his second.
But the Blacks never gave in and were rewarded when Sturmey scored his second and Josh Edwards added another consolation try right on full-time.