THE Kempsey Cannonballs hosted the Port Macquarie Pirates at Crescent Head on Saturday afternoon in a rugged and thrilling encounter between the two rivals.
The Pirates had to struggle with the loss of the Matt Mane and John Talamaivo centre combination and the unavailability of Lucas Wall in the front-row.
But, the new pairing of Jacob Law and Chris Geary helped the visitors home in a 34-26 win.
Port Macquarie coach Marc Minor brought Law in from the wing and Geary out of the second-row to fill the vacant centre spots.
To say it was a success is an understatement.
Both Law and Geary gelled from the outset, creating a strong attacking combination as well as providing a good understanding of each other’s play in the defensive role.
Lucas Webb was the first scorer of the day with a try in the sixth minute as the Pirates put pressure on the Cannonballs from the outset.
Kempsey retaliated in the 20th minute with a converted try that saw the home team hit the front 7-5.
Moments later the Pirates hit back with a Joel Rabbage try, quickly followed by a Tim Boyle five-pointer, which started with a bone-jarring tackle by Chris Turnham that turned the ball over.
Rabbage headed for the Kempsey line and found Boyle looming in support.
Boyle crossed under the posts to allow for an easy conversion.
Geary, relishing the extra space in the backline, also found himself heading for the tryline.
With the conversion the Pirates went to the break with a healthy lead of 26-7.
Minor urged his team to go on with it in a stirring half-time speech.
Unfortunately, the Pirates were once again out of the blocks slowly.
It allowed Kempsey to apply pressure to the Port Macquarie outfit and resulted in three unanswered tries to the Cannonballs.
They levelled the scores at 26-apiece in the 13th minute of the second half.
But the Pirates kicked away again thanks to a try from Sam McNeill and the addition of a simple penalty moments later.
The match see-sawed as both teams defended strongly, which saw some ill feeling come into the game and some minor stoushes take place.
With play so close, the crowd was kept on tender hooks as the encounter was there for either team to claim.
Players’ player Webb, however, sealed the result for the Pirates with five minutes remaining with a scrambling try from a rolling maul in which the Pirates’ forwards steam-rolled Kempsey defenders.