RUGBY UNION: THE Gunnedah Red Devils stamped themselves as the “real deal” in the Central Northern rugby premiership race, after over-running arch rival, the Narrabri Blue Boars, 45-10, at Rugby Park on Saturday.

After a sluggish error-ridden start, the Devils caught fire to run in seven tries in their trademark free-wheeling style to consolidate top spot on the ladder, as the competition reaches the halfway mark.

The Devils’ template for a premiership crown this season is built on speed and attacking potential from all parts of the field, working off a solid platform of forward set pieces and vigorous foraging for the ball in rucks and mauls.

It didn’t start out that way on Saturday – the untidy Devils were on the back foot early, the Blue Boars jumping away with two tries in the first 14 minutes, the first from a sweeping backline movement right out of the Red Devils’ own playbook and the second from a loose pass from the Gunnedah outside backs. 

The home side was guilty of pressing too hard, coughing up possession and lacking continuity in attack in the early stages of the match.

But then, it all changed with some superb ball-running, highlighted by a 50-metre raid down the left wing by the Devils’ two chief attacking weapons, full-back James Perrett and Fijian winger Emori Wagavulagi, which led to Perrett plunging over in the corner.

It took 25 minutes for the Devils to open their account with a try to the side’s Mr. Perpetual Motion, back-rower Ray Spradbrow, and within a few minutes the Devils were in front, with Perrett’s try and sideline conversion.

Late in the half, a right-side set piece saw roving winger Wagavulagi chime in from the opposite wing to step around the Blue Boars’ defence, giving Gunnedah a 19-10 lead at the break.

The Devils’ attack ran the full rugby playbook, from a try to hard-working prop Lachie McArthur from a rolling maul to slick passing rushes along the backline. Halves Sam Crane (No. 9) and Marcus Hayne (No. 10) set the backline in motion, with their long, flat passing. At the back of the line, Perrett was a constant threat with his forays into the line.    

Wagavulagi was in dynamic form, notching his second treble of tries in a few weeks. He was a handful for the Blue Boars, scoring twice in the second half and setting up the last try of the match by winger Cam Mitchell. 

The Narrabri defence simply couldn’t handle his timing and smooth stepping, even in heavy traffic.

Despite the wide winning margin, it wasn’t all plain sailing and for the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Blue Boars continually pressured the Devils’ line. But they were turned back by resolute defence.

Coach Daniel Martin was pleased with the effort, which saw the Red Devils pile on 45 unanswered points.    

“It was a fantastic result for us, even though our start was poor,” he said.

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