Looking out for the count at 18-0 down after 20 minutes, the Rockingham Sharks showed why are the 2017 NRLWA minor premiers, scoring six unanswered tries to secure their grand final berth with a stunning 30-18 victory over the Joondalup Giants on Saturday.
Slow out of the blocks, the Sharks had to endure a Joondalup tidal wave as the big Giants pack pushed holes in the Rockingham defence.
A score on seven minutes and another four minutes later gave them a commanding lead as the Sharks tried to grab possession.
Without the football they were forced to defend several sets as the Giants pushed forward.
A penalty enabled them to quickly move the ball wide and winger Connor Hudson was beaten in the corner.
Hudson would make up for it later in the game, but the Giants threw everything they had at the Sharks in search of a commanding lead.
When they added another to go 18-0 up on 22 minutes many were wondering if the Sharks had blown it.
But you write off this Rockingham side at your peril.
Wily halfback Anthony Bowman showed why he has played at pro level in Britain, when he broke between two defenders from 15m out to put the Sharks on the board on 27 minutes.
The Giants, already beginning to show fatigue looked lost as the Sharks moved through the gears.
They could have scored again before the break but were content with the 18-6 scoreline as coach Darren Shaw calmed them down, told them to keep to their gameplay and to step it up in the second half.
“We always had belief in ourselves,” Shaw said.
“We knew the Giants would come at us in that first half hour and throw everything they could at us to break us down, but the longer the game went on, we knew we would recover.”
And recover they did. Two minutes after the restart Hayden Toby-Dangen crossed in the corner after being put through by Geordie Connelly.
And more pressure kept the Giants pinned in their own half from the kickoff as the Sharks marched back up the field for teenage halfback Tyler Hunt to weave his way through a congested Joondalup defence for another try. He kicked the extras and it was game on.
The Sharks sensed their opponents were tiring and stepped up their game with quick play the balls, resulting in an increasing penalty count as the Giants found it hard to maintain their 10m defence.
Three minutes later, after more sustained pressure, Connelly capped off another superb performance with a try to give the minor premiers the lead for the first time in the game.
Hunt missed the kick but it mattered not as this Sharks team was fired up and never looked like conceding again.
Hooker Andy Jeffery was moving his forwards around the field and setting up a string of opportunities. A move in the 63rd minute created a big hole for Josh Bransby and the youth product blew away several defenders to score from 25m out.
The kick gave the Sharks an eight-point margin, one they would never surrender.
But with 15 minutes to play the Giants still tested the Sharks defence.
This defence is probably the best in the 2017 competition and there was little space to allow Joondalup through.
After weathering another Joondalup push, the Sharks sealed the game ten minutes from time when Bowman, took a pass from Hunt after excellent buildup play from Jeffery to break through a hole 20m out. Hunt missed the kick but barring a major comeback this game was won.
The Giants thought they had scored late on but the touch judge ruled a foot out of play and the Sharks ran out the clock to become the first senior first grade side to make a grand final since 2008.
“Tough for sure, but we always believed in ourselves,” club skipper Reece Potter said. “Bring on next week.”
Earlier Third Grade just failed to secure their GF spot, going down 28-12 to Joondalup in their prelim final off the back of a couple of refereeing mistakes.
“At the end of the day though we only have ourselves to blame,” coach Pete Worth said. “It’s been a good season, but we just missed out at the end.”
1 Benton LEME PYAKO – Solid at the back, but will someone hide those pink boots. 2 Connor HUDSON – looked nervous to start, but grew as the game went on. 3 Logan BARCLAY – Nervous start and missed early tackles, but grew into role. 4 Geordie CONNELLY – Class act in defence and attack. 5 Hayden DANGEN-TOBY – Tested early with high balls but came good second half. 6 Anthony BOWMAN – Superb second half with great kicks. 7 Tyler HUNT – nerves never showed as this young man came of age. 8 Reece POTTER – solid captain’s role. 9 Andy JEFFERY- unsung hero, moved forwards around and make some great breaks. 10 Benny BOLTH- big hit-ups and strong tackles. 11 Julian WILSON WYLLIE – Mr consistent. always there to make the tackle. 12 Josh BRANSBY – great season for this youngster – another strong performance. 13 Brandon WRIGHT – Tackled himself to standstill early on. 14 Matt RANGIUIA – Came off the bench and did a superb job. 15 Ian WOOD – another bench replacement you can always rely upon. 16 Richie HICKS – stepped into role and never looked out of place. 17 Caleb REEDY – Best halfback/forward in the game.