UNE SG BALL
Panthers Show Premiership Credentials
The Penrith Panthers have emerged as UNE SG Ball competition favourites after accounting for the Canberra Raiders 30-18 at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday, while minor premiers, the Roosters, have been bundled out of the competition.
With the minor premiership-winning Roosters going down by 26-24 to the resurgent Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Penrith will now enter next week's Preliminary Final against the Sharks as the ones to watch in the competition.
Like the Roosters, despite also finishing the regular season undefeated, the Panthers were ambushed in Week 1 of the Finals to record their first loss of the year - the third-placed Knights doing the honours to the tune of 18-6. So it was with a steely resolve that the Panthers arrived at Leichhardt Oval to face the Raiders.
Penrith wouldn't disappoint. With hooker, Maurice Trindall, and fullback, Charlie Staines, leading the way with a try-scoring double each on Saturday, Penrith set about de-constructing the Raiders in a controlled six tries to four performance.
Trindall's speed and opportunism out of dummy-half in many ways set the pace for the Panthers, the forwards laying a solid platform for halves Hayden Bonanno and Matt Burton - both of whom flourished in the open space to take control of proceedings.
Meanwhile, giant-slayers the Bulldogs will now face the Knights for a spot in the Grand Final in what is sure to be an epic Preliminary Final encounter given the form of both sides.
Against the Roosters, Bulldogs winger, Logan Dillon, starred with two four-pointers, including the all-important 65th-minute clincher. With the Wayne Pearce scoreboard reading 24-22 in favour of the Roosters at the break, both sides traded blows in the second half but were both unable to score until Dillon crossed for the match-winner five minutes from full-time.
The halves pairing of James Valevatu and Tommy Talau also played a vital role for the blue and whites, expertly steering the boys from Belmore around the park in a performance that will need to be built upon if they are any chance of beating Newcastle for a place in the UNE SG Ball Grand Final.
HARVEY NORMAN TARSHA GALE CUP
Dragons Upset Steelers to Claim Preliminary Final Berth
The St George Dragons shocked the Illawarra Steelers in the Harvey Norman Tarsha Gayle Cup elimination final on Saturday at Leichhardt Oval - the sixth-placed Saints defeating the girls from 'The Gong' 38-30 in a see-sawing affair.
The match would produce arguably the try of the afternoon in all three grades courtesy of the Steelers, when Maddison Weatherall's strong charge broke the Dragons defence on her own 20-metre line, before passing on to Chantelle Newman, who raced just over 60 metres to touch down.
But while the try was impressive, it would fall short of inspiring an Illawarra victory.
Three quick consecutive tries to Dragons winger, Camelia Atelaite Ali Lotoa'atu, put the Dragons on the front foot early, and despite the Steelers quickly returning serve with impressive tries to Bronte Girdler and Leanne Jackson, Illawarra couldn't claw back.
Saints' win means they will now face minor premiers, the Sharks in what by all accounts represents a daunting challenge. Having scored 520 points and conceded only 126, the Sharks are by far the most prolific point scorers in the competition.
Meanwhile, the Newcastle Knights emphatically accounted for the Penrith Panthers in the day's other elimination final by 50-12 - a result which sets up a Preliminary Final matchup with the third-placed Wests Tigers,
A hat-trick to back-rower Caitlin Johnston, and a double to winger, Emily Harman, helped see the blue and red of the Knights claim a victory that is sure to provide all-important belief to the girls ahead of their next clash.
Up by 28-12 at half-time against the Panthers, the result was hardly assured. But the Knights would show both professionalism and focus to keep Penrith scoreless in the second half before going on to score 22 unanswered second half points.
The winner of the Tigers v Knights Preliminary Final will no doubt have to replicate that focus if they are to be any chance of booking themselves a place in the competition's Grand final.
UNE HAROLD MATTHEWS
Front-Runners Bounce Back in Week Two of Finals
The Eels and the Panthers got their respective UNE Harold Matthews Cup Finals campaigns back on track on by recording big wins at Leichhardt Oval over the Sharks and Bulldogs on Saturday.
After finishing first and second on the competition ladder, both minor premiers the Panthers, and second place finishers the Eels, stumbled with narrow losses in last week's opening Finals matches. But Saturday saw renewed enthusiasm from the league front-runners after both sides managed to keep their opposition to just one try on their way to comprehensive victories.
Parramatta's 46-6 victory over the Sharks sounded an ominous warning to the rest of the competition. The dominant eight tries to one display included a try-scoring double to fleet-footed fullback, Joshua Tuipuloti, who terrorised the Sharks defence all morning by injecting himself into the blue and gold back-line when half an opportunity arose with damaging results. Another try to the Eels' and competition's top try-scorer Matthew Komolafe, who now boasts 12 tries, only served to solidify the threat of the blue and gold attack in this competition.
The Eels will now play the Newcastle Knights in the Preliminary Final, with the men from the Hunter having plenty to consider ahead of the match, having only three weeks ago been drubbed by the Eels 42-8.
In similar fashion, minor premiers the Panthers, accounted for the Bulldogs by 38-4, with Zac Lipowicz and Maxwell Pritchard both playing pivotal roles by grabbing doubles for their side. The pair contributed 16 points to Penrith's 38 point haul, in what was a controlled performance by the men from the foot of the mountains. But ask anyone who has been following the UNE Harold Matthews Cup this year, and they'll tell you that Penrith's next opponent, Manly, shape as the true dark horse of the competition.
Finishing third at the end of the regular season, the Sea Eagles showed tremendous grit to overcome Parramatta in Week 1 of the Finals by just two points in a 26-24 win. Back-rower, Siosiua Fotu, played a key part in that victory with his strong charges on the Manly edge, and two four-pointers.
With all four Preliminary Finalists in fine form, and with a Grand Final berth on the line, the 2018 UNE Harold Matthews Cup is now set for a brilliant finish.