Four weeks into Season 12 of the Newcastle Dodgeball League, and just one team remains undefeated - defending minor premiers Shortland.
After two strong victories over Glendale and Bar Beach to open their season, the Scotchies nearly slipped against Waratah last week in an edgy 7-6. This week, Hamilton proved less of a speed-bump as the team looks to return to the top spot and take another shot at the playoffs.
Shortland recorded a 9-4 win over the former champions, with the Stags struggling to string points together in the early battles of the second half. Despite a tight start that saw the Stags and the eventual winners trade sets in the opening four, Hamilton would manage just two more point-wins in the following nine, slipping to the five-point loss to send them spiralling to a 1-3 record in seventh place.
The other grand final team from Season 11, Belmont, had a better run of it on Thursday evening as they downed Glendale 15-1 to return to second place over the defeated Kotara.
The Kings fell to their first loss of the season against a resurgent Waratah, who themselves were starring down the barrel of three straight losses after knocking off arch-rivals Hamilton in the opening round. The Cobras were able to clinch a 7-5 win off the back of a flurry of set-point wins late in the contest however, after the teams were locked at 4-4 before a two and a half minute sudden death round - the longest ever recorded in the NDL's 350+ official matches.
Finally, another record was broken in Round 4 of the season, as Bar Beach and Raymond Terrace played out a lightning-quick 21-set contest that saw the Boomers move ahead 11-10 to bag their second win of the season. The match cleared the next highest set-count for a match by just one, with the former record set by the same teams in their Round 13 meeting just last season. The Raccoons were the victors of that meeting, 14-6.
STANDINGS: Shortland (12), Belmont, Kotara (10), Waratah, Bar Beach (8), Raymond Terrace, Hamilton (6), Glendale (4).
Jenkinson takes early lead in race for MVP; Jones, Hamiilton and Foot all sit close behind on the leaderboard
Raymond Terrace's Dan Jenkinson has taken an early lead in the race of Season 12's Most Valuable Player, collecting a massive six points in the opening three rounds of the competition.
Jenkinson scored 9 points in 14 regular season rounds last season to collect a place in the overall Team of the Season, beating out Shortland's Hannah Trypas and Kotara's Isaac Davis on the same point haul. Now, he's already collected two-thirds of his total count from last campaign, and could well have defending MVP Emma Hawes' 14 point tally from last season in his eyes.
Raymond Terrace's dangerman is followed closely behind by the defending champion's best performer so far in 2019 - Keagan Jones. Part of the title-winning outfit from Season 12, Jones has kicked on in the new season to collect two of the team's MVP nominations in the opening two weeks, first against Raymond Terrace in the opening week and then just recently against grand final rivals Hamilton in a blockbuster 7-5 battle in Round 3.
Behind Jones sit Bar Beach captain Callum Foot, who has already chalked up three points from a total six available in Season 12, and rookie Glendale catcher Amelia Hamilton, who has burst into the league with two dominant displays to net herself the same haul as Foot.
Although Jenkinson has accumulated a strong early lead, two strong weeks from any player in the mix could boost them right up to the top of the standings, and with eleven regular season rounds still to go in the Newcastle Dodgeball League - and 22 total MVP points up for grabs for each individual player across that time - there's still everything to play for in the race for the highest personal honour in the competition.
To see who else has already picked up MVP points this season, head to the Race for MVP page to see the ongoing leaderboard.
In one of the early blockbuster clashes of Season 12, the third week of the competition saw grand final rivals Hamilton and Belmont come face-to-face just a handful of competitive games after the Beavers claimed their first championship at the Stags' expense.
This time around, Hamilton were able to claim the honours as a slow and steady battle fell their way, 7-5. It was a second half comeback that swapped the results for the Stags, as they trailed 2-4 at the break against the defending champions.
The six-set first half was a tight affair for both sides, with Belmont climbing into the ascendancy with the final two points to break the early 2-all deadlock.
It was the second half that decided the match however, as the 4-2 lead for the Beavers quickly became a 4-all tie again, and Hamilton kept on the pressure to chalk up three more set wins to stretch their lead to three. While Belmont were able to drag one back in a sudden-death decider for the twelfth round, it wasn't enough to bridge the gap and the champions slipped into the loser's circle for the first time in 2019.
The win was a key one for Hamilton, who had started the season 0-2, but despite collecting three points saw very little movement in the standings - a clog of teams on five points have developed from fourth to seventh.
Part of that came from Waratah's 6-7 defeat at the hands of current league leaders Shortland. The Cobras and the Scotchies found themselves all level at 6-apiece heading into the thirteenth and final set, with Shortland able to come out victorious after four quick-fire eliminations put them on the front foot. Waratah's defeat dropped them to a 1-2 record, putting them in the lead of the developing pack.
Bar Beach also lost on Thursday evening, joining the 1-2 group, after a close contest with Kotara fell against them 6-9. The final team locked in the mid-table clump is Raymond Terrace, who delivered Glendale their third loss of Season 12 in the late game on Thursday.
STANDINGS: Shortland, Kotara (9), Belmont (7), Waratah, Raymond Terrace, Hamilton, Bar Beach (5), Glendale (3).
Finals: Scotchies clinch first title with rampage over Belmont (21/06)
RD14: Shortland, Hamilton lead top seeds heading into playoffs (07/06)
RD13: Glendale stun Belmont 7-3 to climb out of cellar (31/05)
RD12: Jesmond bundle up Waratah to set race for top four alight (24/05)
RD11: Beavers back on track with win over the Kings (17/05)
RD10: Terrace back in the winner's circle with Hamilton upset (10/05)
RD9: Belmont and Waratah locked at standstill (03/05)
RD8: Stags down 'Tahs in grudge match battle for third (19/04)
RD7: Belmont bounce back with spoiler win against Kotara (12/04)
RD6: Scotches wave away Belmont bid to stay top (05/04)
RD5: Waratah right season with Raccoons win (29/03)
RD4: Shortland stay undefeated with fourth win (22/03)
RD3: Hamilton claim revenge in grand final rematch (15/03)
RD2: Bar Beach hold off Glendale to bag first win (08/03)
RD1: Waratah sweep aside arch-rivals with major margin (01/03)
PRESEASON: Season 12's draw & key fixtures revealed (08/02/19)
PRESEASON: Rego now open for NDL Season 12. (01/02/18)
GF: Belmont edge out Hamilton in two-set grand final epic (16/11)
FINALS: Hamilton and Belmont set up grand final rematch (9/11)
RD14: Waratah down Belmont in heated one-set thriller (2/11)
RD13: Shortland oust Hamilton from first with one to go (26/10)
RD12: Belmont upset Hamilton to blow first place race open (19/10)
RD11: Shortland take second after thriller against Belmont (12/10/18)
RD10: Waratah tumble into fourth place after slow start (5/10/18)
RD9: Top four teams hold off finals-hopefuls (28/09/18)
RD8: Hamilton claim first as league celebrates Ladies Day (21/09/18)
RD7: Shortland and Kotara clash goes down to the wire (14/09/18)
RD6: Waratah keep close on Hamilton's heels (07/09/18)
RD5: Hamilton prevail in grand final rematch (30/08/18)
RD4: Belmont tumble into ladder mix with defeat (24/08/18)
RD3: Waratah cuts Shortland's undefeated streak short (17/08/18)
RD2: Shortland break Terrace to continue strong start (10/08/18)
RD1: Waratah open account against long-standing rivals (03/08/18)
PRESEASON: Season 11's draw & key fixtures revealed (19/07/18)
PRESEASON: Registrations now open for NDL Season 11. (13/07/18)
GF: Hamilton extend dynasty with fifth championship (06/07/18)
SF: Belmont punch ticket to season decider with comeback (29/06/18)
QF: Raymond Terrace scores maiden finals victory (22/06/18)
RD15: Waratah confirm second place, first week bye (15/06/18)
RD14: Waratah steady the ship with key three-set win (08/06/18)
RD13: Belmont ensures the Waratah slide continues (01/06/18)
RD12: Cooks Hill and Belmont remain level with draw (25/05/18)
RD11: Waratah lose sight of first place after defeat (18/05/18)
RD10: Raymond Terrace shock Cookers in sudden death (11/05/18)
RD9: Cookers drop 'Tahs to second with 6-5 slug-fest (04/05/18)
RD8: Hamilton take revenge in Battle of Oakdale (27/04/18)
RD7: Bailey best on field as 'Tahs in cruise-control (20/04/18)
RD6: Waratah break three-year hoodoo over old rivals (13/04/18)
RD5: Hamilton reclaim first place with 13-0 masterclass (06/04/18)
RD4: League's closest round sees 'Tahs take top spot (23/03/18)
RD3: Cooks Hill record first point with 5-5 draw (16/03/18)
RD2: Sudden-death deciders see Hamilton pip Belmont (09/03/18)
RD1: Waratah-Hamilton classic ends in 6-all draw (02/03/18)