Eight years after they last reigned supreme, University are quietly re-emerging as a genuine premiership contender.
The Mallee Bulls didn’t grab any attention in the opening rounds, starting the season with a bye before losing 24-16 to Avondale and drawing 15-15 with the Woonona Shamrocks.
Uni have since peeled off wins over defending champions Camden (24-15), Tech Waratahs (27-8), Bowral (51-7) and Kiama (44-24) to grab a share of second spot.
Now University set their sights on beating the Vikings at University Oval on Saturday.
‘‘It’s coming together,’’ Bulls coach Shaun McCreedy said.
‘‘The boys are starting to jell and believe in each other and what we’re trying to achieve, not only as a side but also as a club.’’
This season University have added size in the forwards to their renowned strength in the backs.
‘We’ve usually been light up front but there’s positive signs that we’ve got the mix right with size and speed and individuality,’’ McCreedy said.
‘‘We’re still a while away from hitting our straps, but the guys are getting a handle on the system that we’re trying to implement among the group.’’
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Uni’s winning streak is that they haven’t had the services of NSW Country duo Paul Tuala and Don Nepia.
‘‘We’ve still got some pieces of the puzzle to be added,’’ McCreedy said.
‘‘We’re starting to really add some depth and there’s competition for places. Our second grade side is starting to win and put pressure on the boys in the first grade side, and that’s healthy for the club.’’
He said there was real competition for places in the team.
Fourth-placed Vikings scored a late try in last week’s home game against Shamrocks to win 26-23.
‘‘I’m sure they’ll come with a good game plan and pose some headaches,’’ McCreedy said.
‘‘[Coach] Shannon Fraser will have them primed and ready for us. We’re expecting another very intense battle. Both teams are trying to cement a spot in that top four to close out the first round.’’
Shoalhaven and Bowral are each chasing their first win of the season in their stoush at Shoalhaven Rugby Park, while Kiama will have to produce something special to upset unbeaten Avondale at Gerry Cappetta Oval.