By Ed Nixon, NRLWA
They left it late, but the Rockingham Sharks will be playing finals football after securing a dramatic 32-14 win over the Joondalup Giants during the final round of the WA Smarter Than Smoking Premiership on Saturday.
Needing to win by 15 points to lock up the last finals berth ahead of the Giants, the Sharks entered the 80th minute leading by 12 and broke Joondalup’s hearts as winger Connor Hudson scored an after the siren try in a wild finish at Franklin Offshore Sportsplex.
Despite the hooter sounding, the Sharks kept the ball alive before centre Will Smith’s hopeful kick was scooped up by Hudson who dotted down to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
“We dug deep and won it in the last seconds – I knew we could do it,” Hudson said.
“It’s a great feeling – I’ll enjoy it tonight with the boys.”
With the win, Rockingham set up an Elimination Final against the South Perth Lions next week, while Joondalup’s season is over for another year.
“It’s going to be a massive game, if we dig deep, I reckon the boys can do it,” Hudson said ahead of next Saturday’s minor semi-final.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Giants got off to a fast start – scoring two tries in the opening 20 minutes.
Joondalup forward Troy Nicho put the visitors on the board after just seven minutes as he took full advantage of Hudson failing to deal with Davey Martin’s bomb kick.
Just 11 minutes later, the Giants were at it again – Leighmon Hohaia-Katene’s cutout pass finding winger Wananga Kingi who streaked away to give his side a 10-0 lead.
Needing to overcome a 25 point deficit to make the finals, it looked an uphill battle for Rockingham, but they hit back on the half-hour mark as Josh Jerome bundled his way over.
That’s how it seemed destined to stay heading into the half-time sheds, but the Giants had other ideas.
With the hooter sounding in the background, Joondalup pulled off a stunning set play to grab their third try of the afternoon – Joell Irvine finishing off a wrap-around play from Martin and Hohia-Katene.
Down 14-4 at the break, the Sharks had to be the first to score in the second half and did just that as Brandon Timlin showed the Giants’ defence a clean pair of heels to score nine minutes after the restart.
Just eight minutes later, the game was all locked up again as Luke Hughes found winger Tom Halliday after a rampaging run – the Englishman touching down in the corner.
With twenty minutes to play, Rockingham introduced English halfback Jack Wray into the game, and the 20-year-old made an immediate impact – kicking a 40/20 with his second touch of the ball.
With their fins up, the Sharks hit the front for the first time in the game when Hughes powered his way over before Timlin set up a grandstand finish with his second.
Martin then kicked the ball out on the full from the resulting kick-off to present Rockingham with one final opportunity to steal a finals berth, and last year’s minor premiers made no mistake as Hudson bagged the winner with the final play of the game.
In other results around the grounds, the North Beach Sea Eagles wrapped up the minor premiership after holding the Fremantle Roosters to a 30-30 draw, while South Perth won their seventh straight, downing the Willagee Bears 52-6.
Semi-Final 1: North Beach Sea Eagles v Fremantle Roosters
Semi-Final 2: South Perth Lions v Rockingham Sharks