NORTH Bears booked a spot in next week’s local derby grand final, overcoming a fast- starting Wee Waa 42-32 in a thriller at a very warm Captain Cook Oval.
A gutsy 80-minute effort sticking with the Panthers, who looked like the better side for the majority of the game, saw the Bears get in front in the last 15 minutes and hold on for the win.
The Panthers started the better side and were making easy metres in the first few sets before the impressive Brenton Cochrane scored his first of three, dancing through the Bears’ defence.
The first of two brainsnaps in the first half saw Panther hooker Dave Cruickshank jump up to touch a North kick-off which was clearing the dead ball line, gifting the visitors possession and the first of three tries to Shane Wadwell to even the score.
Ball security let the visitors down, dropping the ball on several visits inside the Panthers’ 20.
Wee Waa’s big men were tearing the Bears apart down the edge of the ruck before handing off to the speed men out wide to finish.
Two tries against the run of play let the Bears stay in the game, going into the sheds down 20-16.
The sides went try for try in the second half.
Wadwell’s third saw the Bears lead for the first time with 20 minutes to go before Cochrane’s third took the lead back.
Josh Trindall took charge of the game late and a few brilliant cross field kicks saw winger Anthony Burns score the first of his late double.
Wee Waa was looking dangerous with the ball in hand, although North’s scramble held the Panthers out, including twice leaving Cochrane over the line but without the ball.
Burns’ second try from another Trindall special with five minutes to go was the nail in Wee Waa’s coffin and the Bears got away with the win.
Bears coach Brad McManus was over the moon with the win and the way the side stuck it out.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” McManus said.
“I talked to them at half-time about completing sets and ball security.”
“Our forwards got into them.
“We stuck with them and went away with it.”
Wadwell and Marshall Barker were the standouts in the forwards, tireless in defence and attack, whilst, after a slow start, Trindall directed play well to steer the visitors home.
Panthers coach Adrian Sunderland was devastated to lose in a game the Panthers dominated for so long but couldn’t take anything away from the Bears’ grinding win.
“We took some wrong options at the back end and we paid for it,” Sunderland said.
“We didn’t kick to the corners, were going one pass to many, and weren’t chasing at marker.”
“We stuck to our game planbut we just got beat and that’s the way it goes.”
The Bears have done it the hard way but will now face old foes Wests next week in the grand final.