The Auburn Warriors continued their charge through the Ron Massey Cup Finals Series with a dramatic 24-22 win over the Hills District Bulls in the Second Semi Final at Ringrose Park, Wentworthville, last Sunday.
In easily the most incident packed and controversial match played in the Massey Cup this season, the Warriors had to overcome multiple hurdles – including being reduced to 11 men at one stage late in the game and being caned 15-7 in the penalty count by referee Ryan Jackson – to sensationally finish the Bulls’ season.
The drama started before kick off when classy ex-NRL Premiership hooker Heath L’Estrange was forced to withdraw from the Bulls line-up due to injury – forcing a reshuffle to their line up and placing more pressure on fellow ex-NRL recruit Feleti Mateo to step up if the Bulls were to win.
The Warriors then started superbly in camping themselves inside the Bulls 20 metre area for the first five minutes after forcing a line drop out from the opening set.
The Bulls weathered the early storm before working to the other end – where winger Jayden Horo finished a left side movement to score the opening try in the sixth minute for a 4-nil Bull lead.
The Warriors then worked play to the other end for Massey Cup Team of the Year member Manaia Rudolph to send a deft grubber down the left flank for evergreen former NRL Canterbury and Wests Tigers winger Matt Utai to pick up and show his trademark strength to muscle over in the corner.
Rudolph converted from touch and the tit for tat order of the day had been set with a 6-4 Warriors lead.
The Bulls struck back in the 18th minute after working play back up field on the back of a couple of penalties when skipper Tim Robinson burst over against the grain off a Chad O’Donnell pass to score near the posts. O’Donnell converted for a 10-6 Bulls lead.
The Warriors came back again when a right-side shift found winger Rabieh El-Zbaidieh for his first try in the corner. Rudolph missed the conversion for the scores to remain locked at 10-all.
Auburn then scored the most spectacular try of the day seven minutes from half time.
A Rudolph stab kick into the right corner bounced on its point and evaded both the chasing El-Zbaidieh and covering Bulls fullback Tom Perrin – where it bounced up for Warriors centre D’rhys Miller to pick up on the fly at full pace and score with a spectacular mid-air dive millimetres from the corner post and touch in goal line.
Rudolph again missed the touchline conversion, but the Warriors had the half time momentum leading 14-10.
The drama started 10 minutes into the second half when Bulls prop Jamal Hunt was the first player sin binned for 10 minutes by referee Jackson – for a professional foul in holding on to flying Warriors centre Josh Bergamin for too long after making a great covering tackle to stop Bergamin’s 50 metre burst down the left.
The Warriors eventually made the most of their advantage eight minutes later when a deft Jamie Clark cross field kick bounced up for El-Zbaidieh to score his second try in the corner. Rudolph again missed from touch and the Warriors led 18-10 as Hunt returned from the bin.
The Bulls were quick to respond as the Warriors’ physical defence saw them give away penalties – one such penalty with 17 minutes left saw enigmatic former star Manly NYC centre Addison Demetriou placed on report.
From the resultant set, O’Donnell finished off the ensuing Bulls build-up with a stepping individual try to bring the scores back to 18-16 when he duly converted.
From the restart set, Demetriou came flying up out of the defensive line to pull off a big hit, and was penalised by referee Jackson for being offside. Demetriou’s dissent at the penalty saw him become the second player sin binned for the match.
Remarkably, the 12 man Warriors outfit showed great composure to set up position for Rudolph to pop a short pass for Lebanese international Elias Sukkar to charge over and score from close range. Rudolph converted to give the Warriors a 24-16 lead.
The drama ramped up to warp speed with just on five minutes left when Warriors prop Visesio Setefano joined Demetriou in the sin bin for punching in a back-play scuffle on the report of Touch Judge Darren Burtenshaw – incredibly reducing the Warriors to 11 men for the three minutes until Demetriou was due back on the field.
The Bulls made the most of the numerical advantage from the ensuing penalty set when Horo scored his second try on the end of a massive overlap that naturally developed down the left as the play was shifted on the last tackle. O’Donnell converted from touch to set up a frantic finish at 24-22.
Demetriou returned to the field with two minutes left as the Bulls commenced their last set of the match from the restart. The now 12 man Warriors outfit somehow scrambled well enough to hold out the Bulls with Perrin caught in possession on the last tackle.
Auburn then ran down the clock – including getting a penalty right on full time – to secure a remarkable win and earn a Preliminary Final date with Minor Premiers St Marys next Saturday.
The Bulls – despite sitting in the Top Four all year with Mateo and L’Estrange at their disposal – ended their year at the same Week Two stage of the Finals as they did in 2016 after crashing out of the Finals in ‘straight sets’.
An outstanding first half performance saw the Guildford Owls end the double Cup defence of Mounties with a handsome 36-20 win over the Mulga in the First Semi-Final at Ringrose Park last Sunday.
After a tight opening 10 minutes, Guildford opened the scoring when lock Jarred Farlow burst clear to score his first try in the 12th minute. Josh Camroux converted for a 6-nil Guildford lead.
Mounties replied five minutes later after sustaining field position when prop Mitch Kennedy burst through token Owls defence from 15 metres out to score. Maurice Kennedy missed the conversion and Guildford led 6-4.
That was as close as the Mulga got all day as Guidlford dominated the rest of the first half.
With half Lazarus Brown playing his best game of the season on the back of ex NRL backrowers Matt Ryan and Mitch Achurch being the Mulga defence back, the Owls attack cut loose in the last 20 minutes of the first stanza.
Brown dummied through down the left channel to score his try to start the blitzkrieg in the 22nd minute. Camroux converted for a 12-4 lead.
Four minutes later, a Ryan pass to Brown started another break that winger Nick Okladnikov finished off to score. Camroux converted for an 18-4 Guildford lead.
The Owls then applied more pressure late in the half which culminated with Farlow charging through the lacking Mulga defence from close range for his second try five minutes from half time. Camroux again added the extras to give Guildford a commanding 24-4 lead at the break.
Camroux put the kick-off to start the second half out on the full to open the door for the Mulga – who from the resultant penalty worked play forward for backrower Steve Tavita to score his try. Maurice Kennedy converted to set up an exciting second half at 24-10.
Guildford were not to be denied and replied in kind when they eventually got down field eight minutes later when interchange hooker Jadyn Field came up with his second short range try of the finals series to restore the half time margin at 30-10 after Camroux added the extras.
Tensions became frayed in the next set from the restart – with Mounties interchange forward Matt Whitehouse and Guildford winger Jayden Wheelhouse both sin binned by referee Damien Briscoe for their part in a back-play melee that blew up at a ruck.
Neither side could take the chances that came their way whilst both sides were down to 12 men, before Whitehouse kept the Mulga’s hopes of a miracle comeback alive upon his return from the bin.
Whitehouse finished off a right sided movement to score with 20 minutes left. Maurice Kennedy’s conversion brought Mounties back to 30-16.
However, a Mulga turnover from the restart set up position for Ryan to complete a tireless game when he finished some Owls second phase play with a determined try from 20 metres out to give the Owls a match winning 34-16 lead with 15 minutes left.
Guildford ran down the clock well enough in defence to shut the Mulga out of the game in the closing stages – with Camroux landing a 30-metre penalty goal with five minutes left to make sure of the Owls win at 36-16.
Mounties kept trying all the way to the end and got the last word when winger Alofi Mataele scored a consolation try in the left corner in the last minute to close out the 36-20 scoreline.
The late try was too little, too late for the Mulga – who will now miss the Massey Cup Grand Final for the first time since 2012 after (like the Bulls) also losing two straight Finals playoffs after finishing in the Top Four.
The confident Owls reward for their win is a Preliminary Final date with the Wentworthville Magpies next Saturday.
The Preliminary Finals at Lidcombe Oval next Saturday promise two cracking Grand Final qualifiers with both danger teams from the bottom half of the eight – Guildford and Auburn – still alive.
Wentworthville take on Guildford in the second Preliminary Final at 1pm, before Minor Premiers St Marys clash with the Auburn Warriors – on the Warriors’ nominal home ground – at 5pm.
Results | Ron Massey Cup Finals Week 2
Guildford Owls 36 (J Farlow 2, L Brown, N Okladnikov, J Field, M Ryan tries; J Camroux 6 goals) def Mounties 20 (M Kennedy, S Tavita, M Whitehouse, A Mataele tries; M Kennedy 2 goals)
Auburn Warriors 24 (R El-Zbaidieh 2, M Utai, D Miller, E Sukkar tries; M Rudolph 2 goals) def Hills District Bulls 22 (J Horo 2, T Robinson, C O'Donnell tries; C O'Donnell 3 goals)
The NSWRL senior competitions’ finals series, covered like never before on NSWRL.com.au and the NSWRL Facebook page, culminate on Grand Final Day at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday 24 September. Be there to witness history, with tickets just $10 for adults and children under 12 free.