NSW Country have notched the first win of the 2019 NRC, staving off a fast-finishing Sydney side in a 38-33 victory.
The Eagles burst out of the blocks with four tries in 17 minutes to take a 26-0 lead over their local rivals before Sydney hit back with four unanswered scores of their own, levelling things up in the 54th minute.
NSW Country, though, held their nerve and two late tries, to hooker David Vea and replacement nine Jack Grant, ultimately proved to be enough for them to take a first-up win.
Those early scores were founded on powerful forward play before Sydney began to fight back, spurred on by a yellow card to Country skipper Ned Hanigan early in the second half.
NSW Country powered over the line in the third minute with Vea the first scorer of 2019, after Hanigan opted to go for the corner with a penalty chance rather than go for the sticks.
They had their second in the 10th minute with a slick Jake Gordon pass putting fullback Tim Clements through a gap and over the line.
The Eagles’ momentum wasn’t able to be quelled with the forwards once again pushing their way over, with tighthead Matt Sandell scoring the third.
Young prop Angus Bell completed the front row hat-trick in the 17th minute to open up a 24-point lead for the Eagles as they truly began to assert their dominance over their city rivals.
Sydney began to work their way back into the contest with some valuable territory and eventually their persistence paid off with flanker Lachie Swinton getting the pill down after a handy Shambeckler Vui break.
Sydney flyhalf Will Harrison made it two in a row for Sydney, grubbering to himself in the 38th minute to score a five-pointer and narrow the gap to 14 points.
The Eagles were dealt an early blow in the second half with Ned Hanigan yellow-carded in the 50th minute with the Eagles holding that two-try lead.
It took Sydney less than a minute to make the most of their one-man advantage with Vui scoring for the Eagles in the 52nd minute and when Lalakai Foketi slammed the ball over three minutes later, any deficit had been all but erased.
NSW Country, though, gave themselves a buffer in exactly the way they began their tally on Saturday, with a maul try to hooker Vea.
A spectacular runaway try from Eagles replacement Jack Grant sealed the victory for the country outfit.
Rookie Sydney backrower Christian Poidevin kept things alive with a last-minute try and fullback Ben Donaldson drop kicked the conversion to give his team time to have another crack and they gave themselves every opportunity to steal a win.
Donaldson gave Sydney a lineout chance in the 82nd minute but a knock-on in that final set play brought the match to an end and left Sydney just five points short of a miracle comeback.
NSW Country takes on the Melbourne Rising next weekend while Sydney takes on Brisbane City.
NSW Country 38
Tries: Vea 2, Clements, Sandell, Bell, Grant
Cons: Kane 4
Yellow Card: Hanigan (49’)
Tries: Swinton, Harrison, Vui, Foketi, Poidevin
Cons: Harrison 3, Donaldson