John Dent Cup: Canberra Royals vs Uni- Norths
Royals player Eddie Lagaali, right, on a charge. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
On face value, the Uni-Norths Owls have a simple equation if they are going to play John I Dent Cup finals - win every week.
They passed Saturday's test by producing a hard-fought 17-6 victory over fifth-placed Royals at Phillip, but there is nothing simple about their next task - beating competition benchmarks Tuggeranong Vikings.
Owls coach Joe Hedger was full of praise for his players after they executed his game plan perfectly and dominated the set piece. He said it was a great defensive effort, with quick line speed enabling them to stifle the Royals' attack.
The charge was led by captain and openside flanker David Bennett, along with ACT Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa and lock Richie Taumoepeau.
All of the Owls' starting 15 played a full 80 minutes.
"We worked pretty hard during the week to try and understand the way in which Royals play and to counter that through trying to dominate the set piece," Hedger said. "It was just primarily a forwards game; our guys stepped up and did the job."
The sixth-placed Owls scored the only two tries of the game, with No. 8 Bhiamie Williamson crossing the line for one and then a penalty try as well.
With Wests, fourth, going down 24-7 to the Gungahlin Eagles, the win brought Uni-Norths (22 points) within five points of Royals (27) on the ladder and six of Wests (28) with three rounds remaining. Both the Owls and Wests still have a bye to come.
But Hedger wasn't too focused on the finals, instead looking at how the team had progressed from last season. On top of the Royals win, they have also knocked off top-four sides Queanbeyan and Wests.
"The only way this is ever going to happen is we've got to beat Vikings next week, and if that doesn't happen, we can kiss the finals goodbye," Hedger said. "But that being said, what we're starting to see is a lot of guys getting a lot of self-belief and taking a lot out of where we were last week to where we've got to now.
"Whether the finals are going to happen or not, the fact is this is a far more improved outfit than what we saw in 2013."
In the top-of-the-table clash, the Whites went down 12-9 to Tuggeranong in an arm wrestle at Viking Park.
AT A GLANCE
Gungahlin Eagles 24 bt Wests 7;
Uni-Norths Owls 17 bt Royals 6;
Tuggeranong Vikings 12 bt Queanbeyan Whites 9.