The New York Knights sustained their supremacy at the top of the AMNRL Atlantic Conference standings after beating a spirited Aston Bulls team Saturday in Pennsylvania. The fiery encounter finished with the Knights picking up yet another bonus point win, the final scoreline reading 50-8. Elsewhere, the Connecticut Wildcats moved into second place on the ladder by crushing the Northern Raiders 56-6. The Wildcats proved too strong at home in Norwalk and are building momentum heading into the playoffs.
In sweltering conditions at Aston Community Center, the Bulls out-enthused New York early but it was the Knights earning the first lead of the match. The Bulls later crossed in the corner thanks to some quick hands from their outside backs. The second quarter consisted of nagging, niggling and nudges which turned into prodding, pushing and punches. Knights’ five-eighth, Nigel Millgate allegedly tripped an opponent off the ball and the move didn’t go unnoticed by the Bulls, resulting in a melee that fizzled out before any injuries, but saw Millgate sent to the sin-bin. The Knights found their rhythm in the second half and the acute game plan and clinical execution that they are known for set the scoreboard ticking over. The Bulls did leave their mark on many Knights players as they sustained physicality throughout the game but could not match the class out wide in offense.
Knights Coach Guillaume Cieutat said his side is starting to show a strong sense of camaraderie which is proving a huge asset for their on-field performance. Cieutat said that a game of heavy collisions was just what the doctor ordered for the Knights heading into the playoffs, “I think we needed a good physical contest and they really gave us that… the challenge was to not let them dictate play and I think our forwards, especially, showed good discipline to prevent the Bulls from gaining any confidence,” he said. Playing on a narrow field, the game’s momentum was dictated by the contest around the ruck and Cieutat noted that two of his big men, Ben Sadgrove and Justin Ripley, were instrumental in winning the contest up the middle. Out wide, Ian Elliot didn’t put a foot wrong all game, playing his first season of rugby league he seems to have found the transition smooth, making great yardage with his speed and defusing a couple of towering bombs launched by the Bulls’ halves. Cieutat also noted his team’s fullback and captain, Gareth Baxendale showed priceless direction and leadership to guide the team to another 40-plus victory for the season.
In the other match of the round, the Raiders made the trip across to Connecticut to face the Wildcats for the first time this year. The Cats were determined to keep their winning streak going, having won every game since round two. Their determination was converted to a five point win (including bonus point) thanks to Sebastian Berdichevsky who picked up two tries; and a host of other Wildcats who crossed the line, including: Drew Dugan, Matt Walsh, Rory Parcel, Chris Lee and Will Garcia. Raiders stalwart, Joel Venables scored his team’s only points of the game, bagging a try and nailing the conversion. USA Tomahawk and Wildcats Captain, Curtis Cunz, said his side haven’t peaked yet but are looking forward to the challenge facing them in the playoffs. Cunz attributed much of Connecticut’s success this year to their connection with Sacred Heart University, “The Sacred Heart University boys have been a force to be reckoned with in our club. Mike Thompson, Will Garcia, Chris Lee, Rory Parcel, Brendan Lloyd, Daniel Bird and Rich Barron have all been dedicated heads at training and have been eager to soak up the knowledge from myself and our Australian imports and it’s showing on the field,” he said.