Another masterclass performance from half Adrian Davis propelled the St Marys Saints to a thrilling 26-22 win over Minor Premiers Mounties in a tremendous Ron Massey Cup First Qualifying Final at Campbelltown Stadium last Sunday.
In a classic confrontation between the Cup’s best team and the Cup’s best player, the defending Premiers could not contain pieces of brilliance from the Saints’ half at critical moments – despite dominating long periods of the match.
Indeed, it was all the Mulga for most of the first half. Centre Allen Mulia Malau finished off a left side overlap to open the scoring in the eighth minute for the defending Premiers.
Then lock Brandon Raeli plunged over from close range after sustained Mounties pressure to extend the lead to 10-nil with Jake Walsh’s conversion in the 18th minute.
Walsh then converted further Mulga pressure in the 26th minute to score and take the lead out to 14-nil and it looked as if Mounties were going to make it a hat trick of wins across the club over the weekend after their Intrust Super Premiership and Sydney Shield teams had won earlier in the weekend.
St Marys finally got their hands on some meaningful football for giant interchange prop Veta Lilomaiava to score under the posts eight minutes from half time to reduce the lead to 14-6 with Davis’ conversion.
The flash point of the match came shortly afterwards, when Davis was in involved in a melee after being solidly tackled in getting a clearing kick away.
Referee Todd Smith invoked memories of the late Barry Gomersall when he played on for two tackles, 50 metres up-field while the melee took place before stopping play.
Davis was penalised for starting the melee, and on the last tackle from the penalty set Mounties winger held off the Saints’ cover defence to finish a right sided numbers play to just get the ball down in the corner.
It was the NRL Rookie runner-up’s 23rd try of the season and gave the Mulga a deserved 18-6 lead at the break.
Davis then produced his magic. On the last tackle at the end of Mounties’ first set of six in the second half, Davis miraculously caught a clearing kick from Walsh on the full – flush off Walsh’s boot from a distance of no more than one metre – when attempting to charge Walsh’s kick down.
Davis then strolled the 50 metres to score untouched as the other 25 other players on the field left on the field – including his own teammates – were shocked. Davis converted and the Saints had their left at only 18-12 down.
A superb cut out pass from Davis send found runaway back rower Tom Eisenhuth four minutes later for his first try to bring the gap back to four points at 18-16.
Inspired by his half’s heroics, centre Robbie Graham finished off another Davis inspired move down the left to score seven minutes after that to give the Saints the lead for the first time at 20-18.
St Marys back-rower Eisenhuth then followed up great work again down the left edge from Graham to dash 50 metres and outpace the Mulga cover to score his second try.
The Saints’ blitzkrieg had produced four tries in 15 minutes to set a stunned Mulga back on their heels with a 26-18 lead after Davis converted from wide out.
Mounties were far from done and a superb Steve Tavita short ball saw prop Mitch Kennedy finish off the movement out wide to bring the scores back to 26-22 with 18 minutes left to play after Walsh again missed the conversion.
There was no score for those final 18 minutes as Mounties threw everything ‘bar the kitchen sink’ at the Saints in the closing stages – with the Mulga virtually setting up camp inside the Saints’ defensive 20 metre area.
In a frantic final set of the match, what appeared to be the winning try for Walsh was pulled up by referee Smith for a forward pass to see the Saints hold on to earn a Preliminary Final berth – forcing Mounties to defend their Cup title the hard way via a sudden death semi-final against the Hills District Bulls this weekend.
In the other thrilling finish to the opening weekend of the playoffs, a try to centre David Sisifa with five minutes left saw the Wentworthville Magpies pip Western Suburbs Magpies 13-12 in the 2nd Qualifying Final ‘battle of the birds’ at Windsor Sports Complex last Saturday to earn a Preliminary Final spot.
After a tight opening 25 minutes where both defences dominated, a blind side bust by Wests lock Tom Morrison sent second rower to score. Shannon Gallant’s conversion put Wests ahead 6-0.
After getting great field position from back to back penalties from the restart, Wests doubled their lead down from the restart, when hooker Dayne Craig caught the stretched Wenty goal line defence napping to burrow over from close range and score. Gallant covered for a 12-nil Wests lead.
After Wests dropped the ball from the restart set, Wenty then pounced when their fullback Lindon McGrady beat Gallant on the outside and outpaced the cover defence to score and reduce the lead to 12-4.
Not too many at Windsor last Saturday thought too much of Dylan Izzard’s well struck field goal from a goal line dropout as the half time siren sounded to end the half with a 12-5 Wests lead.
However, after another arm wrestle that saw the first 25 minutes follow the same pattern of the first, Izzard brilliantly broke the game open with 15 minutes to play with a superb 90 metre try to set up the grandstand finish at 12-9 down after the conversion was missed.
After getting a penalty with five minutes left, Sisifa then finished off a sweeping backline movement to score in the corner and give Wenty the lead for the first time at 13-12 – and all Wenty fans were suddenly thankful for Izzard’s field goal nearly 40 minutes earlier.
Wenty then held off one last late Wests possession to secure a spot in the Preliminary Finals – and forced Wests to face former Wests Tigers NSW Cup coach Paul Fletcher and his Guildford Owls in a sudden death semi final this Sunday.
Guildford booked their sudden death meeting with Wests when they easily disposed of a disappointing Auburn Warriors 32-10 in the second sudden death Elimination FInal at St Marys Leagues Stadium last Sunday.
With their confidence up after beating the Warriors the previous week to make the finals. Guildford started off strongly.
Former Cronulla and Wests Tigers NRL half Penani Manumalealii got the Owls off to the best possible start when he got the opening try of the match in the ninth minute.
Another long arm wrestle followed as both forward packs took each other on through the middle. Manumalealii got his second try in the 28th minute to extend the Guidlford lead to 10-nil with Lopeti Wolfgramm’s conversion.
The half back’s second try was the catalyst to a Guildford attacking blitz that virtually decided the match by half time.
Winger Amanaki Manu finished off an more Owls pressure from the restart for 16-nil after Mason Farrell converted.
Then evergreen centre Harmony Hunt celebrated his return from injury with a superb finish three minutes from half time to give the Owls a commanding 20-nil lead at the break.
After both sides had their chances in a tight first 20 minutes of the second half, Guidlford put themselves virtually out of sight when centre Josh Camroux scored for Wolfgramm to convert and have the Owls out to a match winning 26-nil lead.
Warriors winger Abraham El Zakhem finally got the Warriors on the board with 15 minutes left when scored in the corner, before Guildford five eighth Lazarus Brown capped a fine game when he scored with seven minutes left to finish the Warriors’ season at 32-4 after Wolfgramm landed his third conversion.
Auburn five eighth Daniel Petralia got a consolation try in the final minute that was converted by El Zakhem, but that did not stop the Owls coasting home to an emphatic win.
Finally, the Hills District Bulls over ran a stunned Concord-Burwood Wolves in the second half to score a remarkable 44-18 win in the first sudden death Elimination Final at St Marys Leagues Stadium last Sunday.
The match was a real contest for the first 55 or 60 minutes as both sides’ huge forward packs took a leaf out of the books of Auburn and Guildford in the earlier sudden death final by ripping into each other through the centre of the rucks.
The Wolves got off to the perfect start when giant second rower Kem Seru crashed over from close range in the fifth minute. Scott Williams converted and Concord-Burwood led 6-nil.
The Bulls replied when fullback Gerard McCallum got his first try in the 11th minute to level scores at 6-all with Devon Makoare-Boyce’s conversion.
The Wolves then had easily their best period of the match for just about the rest of the first half.
Experienced winger Sam Latu finished off a backline movement to score in the 18th minutes to regain the lead for the Wolves at 12-6 with Williams’ conversion.
Former North Sydney Bear Bernard Gregorius then extended the Concord-Burwood lead six minutes later when he finished off a Marc Russell inspired move to score. Williams landed his third conversion from three attempts and the Wolves had a handy 18-6 lead.
McCallum’s second try in the shadows of half time was the warning shot across the bow as a sign of things of things to come in the second half. Makoare-Boyce’s conversion brought the scores back to 18-12 at the break.
The second half started tightly enough before Bulls hooker Lionel O’Mally burrowed over from close range 12 minutes into the second stanza to level the scores at 18-all when Makoare-Boyce converted.
McCallum completed his hat trick in the 57th minute to give the Bulls the lead for the first time at 24-18 after another Makoare-Boyce conversion.
The last 20 minutes then became a repeat of the procession that the Bulls turned on to qualify for the playoffs at Asquith’s expense.
Five eighth Ben Falcone and centre Jordan Tongahai scored tries in the space of five minutes to blow the lead out to 32-18, leaving the Wolves nonplussed.
Interchange hooker Sean Walpole then sealed a remarkable win for the Bulls with eight minutes left when he muscled over from dummy half for 38-18 with Makoare-Boyce’s conversion.
Bulls half Nick Holliday then put the icing on the cake in the final minute when he scored for Makoare-Boyce to convert and send a stunned Wolves crashing out of the playoffs for the second straight year at the same Elimination Final stage.
Week 2 of the Finals sees both sudden death semi-finals set down for St Marys Leagues Stadium on Sunday.
Wests take on Guildford at 2pm, before the Bulls look to keep their fairy-tale run from eighth spot going against Mounties in the other semi-final at 4pm on Sunday at Crestwood Reserve for a virtual eighth place play off.
Radio HHH FM again comes to the fore with their coverage of the NSWRL Finals Series this weekend. The hard hitting League show “A View From The Hill” starts the weekend on Saturday at Midday. Then on Sunday, the HHH League Team cover all four finals matches set down for St Marys Leagues Stadium in a feast for grass roots finals footy – and as the only station covering the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield finals this weekend. Coverage starts with the live calls of the Sydney Shield semi final between the Peninsula Seagulls and the Wentworthville Magpies at Midday, then follows up with the Ron Massey Cup semi finals between Wests and Guildford at 2pm, followed by Mounties taking on Hills District Bulls at 4pm. The quadruple treat finishes with the replay of the Belrose showdown with East Campbelltown in the Sydney Shield semi final at 6pm – to finish 8 hours of monster all day coverage. All the weekend action can be caught on either 100.1FM, or via Web Streaming at www.triplehfm.com.au, or via the Radio TuneIn App.