The Maitland Pickers reasserted their credential as a contender with a bone-jarring defensive effort to beat Central Newcastle 22-10 at the Maitland Sportsground on Saturday.
"Fantastic, absolutely fantastic," a delighted Pickers coach Luke Dorn enthused after his under-strength side out-muscled and out-played Central after the Butcher Boys led 6-4 at half-time.
"Just a tough team win. They are the kind of wins that really show what the individual thinks of his teammates.
"I'm really proud of that performance."
Hooker Jarrod Smith in his third game back from a knee reconstruction echoed his coaches enthusiastic appraisal.
"Everyone's ripping in, everyone's doing 20 per cent more than whatever they are supposed to. It makes it easier on everyone else to do their job.
"It's great to be back on the field and even better to be in the winner's circle, particularly after that loss to Souths.
"This is a win that really was built on the training track, the boys have been so committed to the cause after the loss to Souths."
Dorn said the improvement in attitude and commitment to each other had shown in two tremendous defensive efforts.
"f you don't defend well you are never going to win," he said.
"We haven't defended well for the first part of the season, we've been erratic and haven't been able to be consistent.
"We had a really good conversation leading into the Macquarie game and there's been a real adjustment in the individuals approach to the game and what they think and need to do to go about their business to be their very best.
"Super impressed with a lot of players and how they've done it to be able to back it up. It's easy to do it once and be up and physical and be energetic. To do it again is a challenge they met.
Macquarie was a real step forward for us and today I think we took another big step forward together as a group.
The Pickers will face a tougher challenge next week when they take on a fired up Western Suburbs after the Rosellas shock 8-13 loss to Cessnock on Saturday.
"It's a great opportunity for the boys to challenge themselves. The area we have improved in are not about individual talent, they are about individual effort and a committed attitude to teammates and the team," Dorn said.
"They will be smarting but we have a chance to show what we can do."
The Pickers forwards were again strong as a unit smothering any Central counter-punches and giving representative half-back Brad Murray no space to be at his creative best.
While it was a super team effort, wing Greg Morris and fullback Isaac Upton were standouts, along with another solid effort by halves partners Jeremy Gibson and Geordie Connelly.
"I don't think we've been at our best in terms of attack yet. There is a heap left in us in terms of decision making and our skill," Dorn said.
"I thought we built our game on the process we wanted to go through and I though we were excellent at it.
"Greg and Isaac are just great instinctive football players. You just want them to back their instincts. Every time they've got it you just think, whatever you are feeling just do it."