After starting the season 0-3 and just one week removed from a 23-0 beating, the Dublin Rhinos tore up the form book and scored a massive upset over the Dublin Rebels.
After a heavy loss to the Craigavon Cowboys, Head Coach Mark Lawless could have been forgiven for looking at a date with Ireland’s most successful side as a particularly unwelcome fixture.
Instead, the Rhinos, led by first-time starting quarterback Jonny Northcutt, dug deep and withstood everything the Rebels had to throw at them in a thrilling final quarter.
The day hadn’t started particularly well for the Rhinos, who ceded possession early in their first drive, then struggled to contain the Rebels running game.
Simon Mackey, who had dominated the February meeting between the sides, picked up where he left off and gashed the Rhinos defence for a rushing touchdown, his third against the men in red this season. Andy Dennehy’s pass was deflected on the two-point conversion, leaving the Rhinos 6-0 down.
Any foreboding or sense of déjà-vu was premature, however, as the Rhinos reacted excellently to the score, clogging the middle of the line and delivering a number of big hits, first Barry Bolton getting to Mackey, then Fintan Corr separating Andrew McMahon and the ball.
The impetus created by the defence spurred the offence, and Northcutt on.
The second quarter saw the Rhinos march down the field, with Robert Pops and Shaun Douglas both gaining yards as the wind played havoc with any notion of a passing game developing on either side.
On a third and eight from the Rebels 22, however, that notion would be exploded.
Northcutt took the snap and retreated, eyes downfield, before arcing a perfect pass over the head of Keith Foster. Alex McGuirk, whose catching chances had been limited throughout the day, showed no signs of rust as he rose spectacularly before bringing the ball in safely in the endzone.
Paul Hosford added the point after, to give the Rhinos a one-point margin at the break.
The second half would become a war of attrition, with penalties pock-marking the game and the tension ratcheted up. The Rhinos defence would force a turnover on downs before a fourth quarter showdown on their own goal line.
With a fourth and goal just inches from the line, the Rebels snap was fumbled and Stephen Byrne gratefully dived on it.
The Rhinos would punt before having to make another goal line stand with time running out.
Dennehy scrambled for what felt like an eternity, before firing a dart that would fall incomplete as the clock expired and the Rhinos claimed their first-ever win over their cross-town rivals. Final score Rhinos 7 -6 Rebels.