PORT Kembla has celebrated their first home fixture of the Group 7 Rugby League season with an against-the-odds 20-18 victory over Milton-Ulladulla on Sunday.
The Blacks led 12-6 at the oranges, before overcoming the second half absence of skipper, fullback and team linchpin Mark Simon to open their 2014 account.
A late Josh Windisch penalty goal sealed the result at Noel Mulligan Oval.
Heavy downpours prior to kick-off suggested that players and supporters alike may require assistance from the famous vessel depicted in Russell Crowe’s new film – helpfully screening nearby - to navigate the difficult weather.
Thankfully the rain cleared somewhat, but soggy conditions still presented challenges for both outfits.
A glut of early possession finally paid dividends for Port after ten minutes when Simon stepped, weaved and sent winger Pat Varglien over in the corner.
Their 6-0 advantage was short-lived, a Blacks clearing kick sailing out on the full.
Milton fullback Tom Cook punished them for their indiscretion, slicing through to square the ledger.
A Bulldogs error from the ensuing set gifted the home team an opportunity though, and they reaped the rewards when Simon displayed striking speed to touch down.
However, he was injured in the act of scoring the four-pointer and played no part in the second stanza.
A standout moment of the dying stages of the first 40 minutes was Port back-rower Tane Sturmey’s try-saving tackle after a dangerous Milton kick return from within their own in-goal area.
Sturmey’s hard work was rewarded in the 49th minute when he barged over for 18-6.
Mistakes and ill-discipline meant at times there was more stop-start than a sloppy drummer.
The still relatively youthful Blacks appeared to be tiring as the encounter progressed, and clearly missed the leadership their opponents had in spades.
With less than 15 minutes remaining, Bulldogs lock Gary Warburton showed the value of such experience, catching Port napping from a quick tap and crossing near the posts.
When the Blacks’ restart went dead on the full, it appeared ominous as Milton were finishing the stronger.
Such concerns were exacerbated when Blake Summerville strolled through flimsy defence from close range to level the scores.
Port displayed resilience though, and Windisch’s pressure kick with five minutes on the clock afforded them a slender lead.
Despite the Dogs threatening to steal the two competition points right until the full-time siren, the Blacks held on to register the victory.
Port finished last year as cellar-dwellers, but have already equalled the number of wins they achieved for their entire 2013 campaign, suggesting a much more competitive season.
Sturmey, Josh Maude, Karl Stowers and Windisch were the standouts for Port Kembla, while Warburton, AJ Hatch, Luke Young and Tom Cook were the best for Milton.