The Mount Pritchard Mounties qualified for the Sydney Shield Grand Final when they came away in the last 15 minutes to beat a gallant Peninsula Seagulls 32-16 in the Preliminary Final at Leichhardt Oval last Sunday.
The Minor Premiers scored the first try when lock Sage Wilder barged over from dummy half in the 4th minute for a 4-nil Mounties lead.
The Seagulls then took it right up to the Mulga with a quick up-tempo game that had the Minor Premiers on the back foot – as they were against Belrose in the Qualifying Final a fortnight earlier.
Seagulls winger Richie Goodwin crossed for the underdog’s first try after great lead up work from Sydney Shield player of the year Jake Pickering in the 12th minute. Luke Martin converted for the Seagulls to lead 6-4.
The Seagulls then doubled their lead in the 28th minute after holding their own in the arm wrestle in the middle.
Centre Knox Time crashed over through the skinny Mounties defence wide out to score. Martin again converted and the Seagulls' supporters dared to dream as the Seagulls took a deserved 12-4 lead to the half time break.
Then - as has often been the case this season - a couple of key errors opened the door for the Mulga to pounce.
First, a turnover in side their own half just 4 minutes into the second half saw Mounties hooker John Martin pick up the loose ball to score. Leading Shield point-scorer Jake Horton converted to bring the scores back to 12-10.
After the Seagulls had their chances, but were still holding the lead, the turning point came 13 minutes into the second half
A Martin kick on the last tackle was sensationally charged down by a suspiciously offside Mounties five eighth Maile Li - which allowed Li to pick up the bouncing ball and dash 60 metres to just beat the cover of the flying Pickering to score in the corner. Mounties led 14-12 and had the momentum.
The Mulga then extended their lead 20 minutes into the second half when a Brad Speechley cut out pass sent freakish winger Maika Sivo away for his 40th try of the Sydney Shield season. Horton nailed that conversion and the Mounties were away at 20-12.
Indeed, the flying Fijian Sivo now has 45 tries in all grades for Mounties this season in just 23 games - 40 in 21 games for the Sydney Shield side, and 5 tries in 2 Ron Massey Cup games.
And this after scoring 28 tries for Gundagai in their Group 9 Premiership winning year in 2015 before coming to Mounties this season - including scoring the winning try to beat the Junee Diesels in last year's Group 9 Grand Final.
The Seagulls were not done yet as centre Barry McGrady finished off a neat movement down the left to score wide out in the 66th minute to bring the scores back to 20-16 after Martin missed the conversion.
Horton then landed a penalty goal with 10 minutes left to give them breathing space at 22-16.
As been so often the case this year the superior fitness of the Mounties squad told in the closing stages.
Another scything break by Li with 5 minutes left sent centre Josh Toole racing away to score the match winning try to put the Mulga into the Grand Final at 26-16.
Speechley then finished off a class game with a jinking individual try against a tired and dispirited Seagulls defence to make sure of the Mulga’s Grand Final place at 32-16 with Horton's conversion as the final siren rang.
A five try, 28 point master-class from 2015 Sydney Shield player of the year Ben Baker propelled East Campbelltown into the Grand Final in their easy 40-6 Preliminary Final win over St Marys at Campbelltown last Sunday.
After an even start, the Eagles cut loose as soon as the seventh minute when a Wayde Dunley play found Baker – playing on the left wing – to score his first try in the corner. Baker converted for a 6-nil lead.
It was to be a lead that was not to be threatened for the rest of the day as steady rain began to fall throughout.
As East Campbelltown started to make the most of a butterfingered Saints display in attack, another Michael Stevens play down the left found Baker for his second try in the 15th minute to extend the Eagles’ lead to 10-nil.
As the Eagles were almost breaking the line down their attacking left almost at will, a Mason Talalua break saw a long Dunley cut out pass two plays later find an unmarked Baker on the chest for his hat trick of tries in just 28 minutes. Baker landed his conversion to give him all of East Campbelltown’s points with a 16-nil lead.
St Marys only real chance before half time came when a long Jak Cannell break was brilliantly cut down by East Campbelltown winger Craig Moustakas in cover with the help of interchange back Sama Sauvao with 2 minutes left in the first half.
Sauvao was sin binned by referee Daniel Olford for a professional foul when hanging on to Cannell too long in the tackle – only to see St Marys lose the ball into touch from the ensuing penalty as the half time siren rang and East Campbelltown holding their 16-nil lead.
Against the run of play, any chance of a Saints comeback was dashed with East Campbelltown increased their lead with their 12 men in the first 10 minutes of the second half while Sauvao was in the sin bin.
A Dunley grubber kick in behind the defence on the first set of six from a St Marys turnover at the start of the second half saw Fusi Toutai get to the ball first to score to extend the lead to 20-nil just two minutes into the second half.
Another superb Talolua ball sent centre Amonono Tovio away down the left three minutes later. Tovio then sent Baker racing away for his fourth try to virtually put East Campbelltown out of sight and into the Grand Final.
Baker converted from touch to give him a personal tally of 22 points and have East Campbelltown out to a 26-nil lead by the time Sauvao came back from the sin bin.
Interchange half Chris Standing then jinked and strolled through token St Marys goal line defence from close range to make sure of the Grand Final berth to score. Baker missed the conversion but the match was all over at 30-nil with still 20 minutes left.
The sting then went out of the game as St Marys still continued to make errors – for a period in the second half the harder Saints tried, the worse their error rate became.
Eventually after some sustained time in possession with 15 minutes to play, fullback Urima Toomalatai finished off a neat Jake Butfield move down the right to score the Saints’ consolation try.
Butfield converted to have St Marys on the board at least at 30-6.
East Campbelltown then responded to the Saints’ try by making a statement in the last 15 minutes.
Tovio was rewarded for his strong game when he finished yet another left side raid to score with five minutes left for Baker to convert and the East Campbelltown lead to blow out to 36-6.
Baker put the icing on the cake personally and for the Eagles when he completed his fifth try in the corner – to bring up 28 tries and 250 points for the season – with under two minutes left.
Baker missed the conversion from touch as the final siren rang – but still finished with a personal tally of 28 points to close out the emphatic 40-6 demolition of the Saints.
Mounties and East Campbelltown square off for their second Sydney Shield Grand Final meeting against each other in three years to start 2016 NSWRL Grand Final day on Sunday at Parramatta’s Pirtek Stadium at 12:10pm.
They last met in a Sydney Shield decider in the 2014 Grand Final at Allianz Stadium won thrillingly that day by the Eagles.
Radio HHH FM again comes to the fore with their coverage of grass roots league this Grand Final weekend. The hard hitting League show “A View From The Hill” then starts the weekend on Saturday at Midday – where NSWRL CEO David Trodden will a special guest to discuss the NSWRL season. Then on Sunday, the HHH League Team will cover 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day like no other team – covering the Sydney Shield decider between Mounties and East Campbelltown at 12:10pm, followed by the Ron Massey Cup Grand Final between Mounties and St Marys at 2:10pm. Grand Final Day 2016 will finish with the Intrust Super Premiership showdown between Mounties and the Illawarra Cutters at 4:15pm. 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.