PORT Macquarie Sharks second rower Chris Piper was set off just before three quarter in the opening Group Three Rugby League game of the season against Old Bar at Old Bar.
Piper is likely to be charged with striking following and incident with Old Bar lock Isaac Worboys. Worboys was assisted from the field, holding his jaw, and didn't return go the field.
However, the Sharks were way too clinical for the home side and headed back to the Hastings 34-20 winners. Port led 22-10 when Piper was sent to the sheds.
The day was held in memory of Old Bar junior Joel Dark, who died following a game played in Newcastle last year. It attracted the perhaps the biggest crowd to a rugby league game in Old Bar. Spectators reacted as Piper made his way to the sheds, accompanied by club officials, however, there were no further incidents.
Smart centre Olli Nosworthy scored three tries for the Sharks. His second, when he snatched an intercept and sprinted 100 metres a minute before halftime to give Port a 14-10 lead, was the turning point.
"Having 12 blokes was hard, but credit to the blokes, they really ripped in,'' Port coach David Geary said at fulltime.
"Our middles were awesome - Mat Jones has been absolutely unbelievable today.''
The Sharks have also unearthed a quality playmaker in halfback Brayden Reid, who scored a smart individual try and had a hand in two others.
"He was great,'' Geary agreed.
"This was his first first grade game today for us. He's from Tamworth. It was good to see him do some good stuff.''
Geary said the Sharks knew the Pirates would be fired up for the encounter.
"It's a big day for Old Bar. So we're happy to take the win.''
The Pirates were led out by Joel's mum and dad, Narelle and Darrin and his elder brother, Kurtis, who played from the bench, as did his cousin, Dane Cordner. Dane's brother, Sydney Roosters, NSW and Australian captain Boyd Cordner was also there and presented the players with their one-off jumpers designed for the game.
Old Bar dominated the early passages and were rewarded when captain-coach Mick Henry worked the short side and the ball shot through centre Drey Mercy to winger Joe Hinton to touchdown. The conversion missed however a kick from five-eighth Jake Hazard rebounded off a Port player and was regathered by the Pirates and this resulted in centre Thomas Dooker crossing. The goal to winger Blake Elford pushed Old Bar to a 10-0 advantage.
Henry admitted the Pirates lost their way after that.
"I was really happy with our first 15 (minutes),'' Henry said.
However, Henry pointed out the Pirates didn't play any trials games and he through they were short of a gallop.
"It's going to take a couple of weeks for us to hit out straps,'' he said.
After Old Bar's initial flurry the Sharks started to get some possession and five-eighth Cubin Piper, Chris's son, sent a smart pass to Dylan Clark who scored and it was 10-4 at quarter time.
Reid threw a great dummy to create a game he raced through to add Port's second try and Piper's goal squared the ledger at 10-10. Nosworthy's runaway on halftime changed the match.
Old Bar struggled to make headway against a dominant Shark pack in the last two quarters. Nosworthy made it a double finishing off a move that benefitted from terrible Old Bar defence and when Old Bar kicked out on the full from a line drop and Piper added a penalty goal the Sharks were up 22-10 and looked winners.
That's the way it panned out, even with only 12 players.
However, the game had a poignant end. Dane Cordner scored the final try and Kurtis Dark kicked the goal to make it 34-20 and round off an emotional day.
Reserve grade: Old Bar 30 d Port Macquarie 16
Under 18s: Port Macquarie 34 d Old Bar 12
Women's league tag: Port Macquarie 34 d Old Bar 6.