The Newtown Jets have qualified for the Preliminary Finals with a dominant performance over the New Zealand Warriors.
Josh Cleeland steered the Jets around with the class he has shown throughout the year, while Matt McIlwrick was also inspiring for the eventual winners.
The defensive efforts shown at the start of the game set the tone for the Jets; a combination of individual try-savers and general defensive communication and willingness of the entire team did not allow the Warriors to score points freely.
James Gavet was tackled agonisingly short from the chalk after a powerful run, but he managed to get a quick play-the-ball that caused trouble for the Jets’ markers. Nathaniel Roache picked the ball up from dummy half and strolled over to open the scoring for the evening.
A linebreak saw the Warriors go straight back on the attack, but a brilliant defensive set on the Newtown line prevented a try, with two individual try-saving efforts by Matt Evans and Corin Smith.
The Jets were rewarded for those efforts thanks to some Josh Cleeland brilliance, which has not been a rare sight in 2016. They marched 100 metres up-field and Cleeland ran the ball on the fifth tackle, stepped through the Warriors defence, and locked up the scores at 4-all.
Roache somehow stopped Saulala Houma from scoring with an outstanding piece of defence, but the very next play, Fa’amanu Brown slid a grubber behind Henare Wells – who slipped over – and Smith planted the ball down with ease.
If Newtown were proud of their defensive efforts early in the match, they would be ecstatic with their next period of tackling as they refused to crack despite the Warriors having three consecutive sets on the attack.
The Warriors were having so much trouble crossing the line, that only one of the tries of 2016 could crack the Jets’ defence. A spiral bomb went uncontested, and it was batted back by George Carmont and Ken Maumalo. The ball was then spread to Mason Lino, who put a pinpoint kick onto the check of an unmarked Henare Wells, who scored un-touched in the right corner.
No goals were converted, meaning the scores were locked up at 8-all at half-time.
The Jets wasted no time to get going in the second half, with Cleeland making a break and passing to a supporting Matt McIlwrick to take the lead once again.
Newtown’s willingness to run the ball on fifth tackle paid off once again, as Matt McIlwrick opted to give a short ball to a Kurt Kara, who ran an outstanding line instead of going out the back, and he steamed over the line under the posts to extend their lead to 20-8.
Brown earned a penalty in front of the posts which got them an extra two points, but another freakish effort brought the Warriors back, when Lino kicked for Wells on tackle one off the scrum, and it hit him on the chest to score a run-away try.
With two minutes remaining, Wells busted through the middle and raced away to the left corner, before passing to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to score and create an exciting finish for the spectators at Pepper Stadium.
The Warriors failed to score in the final set of the game, meaning the Jets are now off to face the Illawarra Cutters for a spot in the Grand Final.