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The first kickoff of the inaugural MLR season was at Dyer Stadium in Houston, Texas where the NOLA Gold picked up its first-ever road win against the Houston Sabercats. After trailing 12-10 at the half, the Gold scored three tries in the second half for the 35-26 come back victory. NOLA has been improving in every match this year and the result was a big win to open up the MLR season.
“The key was playing in the right areas,” NOLA captain Taylor Howden said. “Houston had a strong wind at their backs in the first half but didn’t use it to their advantage. We showed some mental toughness and in the second, were able to keep the pressure on by playing in their half. It was tough to exit into the wind.
“The difference may have been our reserves who came on and lifted the intensity, something we talked about pregame and at halftime,” Howden added. “We showed some resilience today, after getting stuck into the physical battle and getting nabbed by a few penalties, we were able to ease the pressure by understanding what we were trying to do and how to do it.”
Inside center JP Eloff was awarded the Man of the Match and Howden couldn’t keep from singing his praises. “JP is JP. Anyone who has played with/against him knows what he can do. He is tenacious and always makes good decisions, along with being someone who you just want to play for. In my opinion, he’s one of the most consistent players in the USA and deserves that recognition. Others who played well are Nikola Bursic, the collision king, and I think Tesimoni Tongauiha off the bench really provided a spark at the contact point.”
Houston’s Sam Windsor was critical of his team’s effort but believes the Sabercats’ future is bright. “We failed to execute our gameplan and that was our biggest downfall. We had a decent plan and a great week’s worth of preparation. Our preseason was extensive and was warranted as a new team coming together. They capitalized on our mistakes and capitalized on their opportunities. Fair play to them, they held out and pushed us to the end.”
One of the main areas Windsor thought Houston needed to be better in was the set piece. “We pride ourselves on our attack and our attack is brought about by solid set piece. Failing to win a few lineouts and failing to get some dominance in scrums thwarted our attacking opportunity and we couldn’t bring our Josuas (Vici), our Oseas (Kolinisau) and our Conor Mills into the game and really challenge the gain line and to attack off the front foot."
“[We wanted to] make NOLA work around the corner and make multiple phases of tackles and then hopefully open up holes for us. In the second half, we couldn’t do that, we couldn’t put phases together. We wanted to play up-tempo and with continuity, but we failed to do that today. We scored a couple late tries at the end and got two bonus points.
NOLA is off on Saturday, but Houston will be back to work hosting the Austin Elite.
“Austin is basically the Huns from the last couple of years so they have been together a while,” Windsor said. “They might not have gotten the results in the preseason everyone expected but that doesn’t change the fact they are a quality outfit, well coached, have been training awhile, great facilities, and some really talented players.”
“The battle up front is going to be tough and they have some height and big guys in the engine room, the forwards are going to have our work cut out for us. When you look at their backs, it’s going to be a challenge for us. We haven’t played them or seen a lot of them play. If we worry about our own game and let that do the talking, I’m confident we have what takes to beat anyone in this competition. It’s about finding the accuracy and execution,” Windsor stated.