THE NSW Waratahs, featuring Berry's Will Miller, have made it 10 straight wins over the Queensland Reds and heaped further misery on their northern rivals with a 28-17 victory at the SCG on Saturday.
Michael Hooper’s men led from outset and managed to hold on playing tough, gritty rugby for their second victory of the season that puts them second on the Australian conference, three points behind the Melbourne Rebels.
A deft kick from former Waratah Bryce Hegarty behind the NSW line led to a try to winger Sefa Naivalu in 66th minute and gave the Reds a flicker of hope that they could end the streak.
Down 21-17 heading into the final 10 minutes, Queensland would have backed themselves to conjure something special but a five-pointer to a flying Alex Newsome under the sticks consigned the Reds to their third loss from as many starts this season.
After the Queensland Maroons won their eighth consecutive State of Origin series, many thought the state-versus-state rivalry would fizzle out. You can bet your bottom dollar that if Queensland won 10 straight against NSW, there would be a major uproar.
The reality is this interstate rivalry has now become completely one-sided. Before Saturday, the Waratahs’ average winning margin over the Reds had been nearly 18 points from nine games.
There were high hopes the streak would end but the composure showed by NSW proved to be the difference in a bruising encounter.
"We knew it was going to be tough and I’m particularly proud of the boys," said Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson. "It was a really grinding win for us. We showed some real character there and withstood a lot of pressure in that second half. I felt our boys stood up and won in a different way."
Captain Michael Hooper said: “We haven’t really hit our straps yet in attack but we ran some really nice plays there tonight out of our own end. I was pleased how we played to the end. That try at the end was a testament to our work-rate. Really pleased with that win.”
A real concern for officials and players was the shoddy surface at the SCG. Big chunks of turf were displaced at scrum-time, which was could have been somewhat a result of wet weather in Sydney preceding the fixture.
In the final minutes of the match, referee Glen Jackson stopped the game, telling ground staff: “This is dangerous, this needs to be fixed.”
It was lucky no player was seriously injured and with two more fixtures remaining this season at the SCG, a quick solution is needed.
The likes of Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt all chopped and changed positions in attack and defence and had stellar games.
Meanwhile, the Reds too often over-ran passes and then dropped the ball cold in a frustrating lack of execution that coach Brad Thorn had to digest.
And didn’t the Waratahs let the Reds know. Hooper and Bernard Foley could be heard yelling at the top of their lungs, cheering on teammates for piling on immense pressure.
Even former Red Rob Simmons got involved in some push and shove before full-time. There was real passion on display for a crowd of 15,681.
Turnovers, too, killed the visitors’ momentum even if they did dominate possession and territory (both 71 per cent) throughout the contest.
Thorn believed the Waratahs won "ugly" but said his side had their chances.
"You just can’t win games of footy like that," he said.
A couple of early penalties to Foley gave the Waratahs a six-point buffer in an opening period of play that lacked continuity.
Although Waratahs halfback Jake Gordon was stopped just short of the line thanks to an excellent cover tackle from first-up starting fullback Isaac Lucas, Ned Hanigan ensured the home side notched the first try of the evening in the 20th minute thanks to a powerful run over the top of Duncan Paia’aua.
"I think Ned had an excellent game," Gibson said. "He really revelled in the hard stuff."
Queensland needed a spark and they that got through Samu Kerevi, who spotted a gap next to a breakdown. A quick pick-and-go saw Kerevi slice through a poorly formed Waratahs line to score his second try of the season.
The Waratahs led 16-12 at the break and although the Reds had chalked up two tries to one – thanks to another down the right edge from Chris Feauai-Sautia – the men in blue largely controlled the half.
"I felt like we took a step back and fell into our old habits," Kerevi said. "We wanted to change that [losing perception] tonight and unfortunately it wasn’t our night."
Curtis Rona made up for a defensive misread during the Feauai-Sautia try by scoring a sensational five-pointer of his own down the left wing.
A poor kick-off from the Reds ended up in the hands of Beale, who gave a pass to Rona. Some 40 metres out, Rona put the gas on and dived over the line. Initially, it looked like he had been dragged into touch but the ball scraped the turf to put NSW up 21-12.
Tatafu Polota-Nau was injected in the 50th minute after 967 days between games for the Waratahs and told teammates afterwards he needed a new set of lungs. He and starting hooker Damien Fitzpatrick were the rocks to a NSW scrum that outmuscled their opponents and orchestrated a win that will be savoured more than most.