The Dubbo Kangaroos may have been beaten in Saturday's top-of-the-table battle in the Blowes Clothing Cup but skipper Shaun McHugh is adamant his side still has what it takes to win this year's premiership.
Emus completed an unbeaten regular season at Apex Oval on Saturday, downing the Roos 25-22 in a match where both sides scored four tries but struggled converting them.
The Roos dominated the early stages before Emus' strength and class came to the fore and they led 18-15 at the break.
The visitors were first to score again in the second stanza and while a second try for Roos winger Charlie Kempston inside the final 10 minutes set-up a grandstand finish the consistency and composure of Emus ensured they got the job done.
Errors and poor execution at key times hurt the Roos but McHugh remained upbeat post-game, stating the performance was his side's best of the season and he was positive the Roos can find another level in next weekend's semi-final against Orange City.
"100 per cent. Of course we can, there's no doubt about it," he said.
"We've just got to be more patient and more clinical in areas but we've got the game plan to win it, we know that much.
"We just lacked a little execution today but we put it together and we can hold the trophy."
HT | Cracking top of the table battle at Apex Oval.— Nick Guthrie (@Nj_Guthrie) September 12, 2020
Orange Emus lead Dubbo Kangaroos 18-15 at the break. Roos dominated early before unbeaten Emus fought back.
This effort from Charlie Kempston one of the Roos’ three first half tries.#CWRU20pic.twitter.com/7bU7XaUWQ3
But, in a warning to McHugh and the rest of the competition, Emus captain Charlie Henley is confident his side can also go to another level.
A dominant forward pack and a patient and composed approach was key for Henley's men in Saturday's win, as it has been all season.
Flanker Sam Greatbatch and prop Archie Hall were among the try-scorers while scrumhalf Sam Green also got across, darting over from close range late in the second half after his forwards and created sustained pressure.
Centre Aidan Baker was the other try-scorer and he was a standout in the win, having been called in to replace inspirational skipper Nigel Staniforth.
Staniforth was left out as a precaution ahead of next weekend's semi-final while winger Tom Joseph is also expected back after missing Saturday with an ankle injury.
Teenager Alex Brien slotted into the side for Joseph and Henley was delighted by the performances of both replacements.
"It's unbelievable," the winning captain said.
"I found out I finished school before he (Brien) even started kindergarten so that makes me feel really old with boys like that playing.
"It gives me all the confidence in the world to know our two senior backs can sit out and we can come to Dubbo and beat the number two side with those boys in the side.
"We're ready to go no matter who is lining up in our 15."
Gifting possession back to the Roos after scoring points was the biggest concern for Henley and something he is eager to avoid in next weekend's semi-final meeting with Bulldogs, the Bathurst side having got the better of Henley's men in last year's grand final.
"Finals footy is unreal," Henley added.
"And Bathurst is always tough. I reckon they're our toughest games and always have been."
The Roos will again be at home in next weekend's semi against City.
The backline again showed its quality on Saturday, Kempston continuing his fine start to life in first grade with another double while centre Johnny Mafiti scored the opener and fullback Jayden Blake also crossed after showing great determination to win the ball after charging down a Jamil Khalfan kick.
It helped the Roos get closer to Emus than they have in years and McHugh is eager for another crack at the Orange side.
"It's pleasing to get that close to these blokes," McHugh said.
"We haven't been this close in awhile. So we have just got to work hard to earn an opportunity to play them again.
"Hopefully we can work hard enough to get back here and play them in GF if we get there and if we get there."
- ORANGE EMUS 25 (Sam Greatbatch, Aidan Baker, Sam Green, Archie Hall tries; Jamil Khalfan conversion, penalty) defeated DUBBO KANGAROOS 22 (Charlie Kempston 2, Johnny Mafiti, Jayden Blake tries; Jake Styles conversion)