PIRATES and Moree produced strong second-half showings to earn direct passage through to the U16 and U18 grand finals at Inverell Rugby Park on Saturday.
Both wins came at the expense of Tamworth, with Pirates beating the Magpies in the U16s major semi 29-16 and the Bulls putting on a second- half masterclass to roll the Magpies’ 18s 38-11.
They totally outplayed the Magpies in the second half, scoring 26 unanswered points to turn a two-point lead into a 27-point win.
The first half wasn’t an indication of the football they are capable of.
“They didn’t play a structured game at all,” coach Kylie Dawson said.
“They weren’t getting to the breakdown. The Tamworth boys beat us at the contest there, which put the backs under pressure.
“The boys weren’t getting enough space.”
The second half they started playing football.
“They had a bit more discipline and structure,” Dawson said.
It was a lot freer too.
“The ball came out a lot quicker and the forwards hunted as a pack,” she said.
“We spoiled a lot of ball and got a lot of turnovers.”
They also started picking up a few tight heads, and lineouts, which they then turned into points.
“The Tamworth forwards were very good. The forwards had to work hard to shut those boys down,” Dawson said.
The backs profited from the quicker release, with Australian Schoolboy John Porch coming into the game more and putting players into holes, and they scored some good tries.
Porch was one of their tryscorers and best. Zeb Buchannan was also strong.
He worked hard at inside centre and then at half-back when he was moved in there, providing good service.
Will Robinson and Michael Carr also had strong games up front, as did Blake Etheridge at number eight and breakaway Jason Clarke.
Clarke was adjudged the player of the match on his 18th birthday.
“He was getting to the breakdown all the time, and getting turnovers,” Dawson said.
Earlier, Pirates became the first team through to the grand finals after turning a 14-8 half-time lead into a 13-point win.
“It was pretty tight in the first half,” Pirates co-coach Stuart Prowse said.
Tighter than it probably should have been.
“The boys gave a lot of penalties away,” he said.
They were mainly at the breakdown.
“We rectified that in the second half and that made a big difference,” Prowse said.
He said what won it for them was their defence.
“It was a pretty big defensive effort across the park,” he said.
“We gave away a lot of possession and ground but defended well to keep them out.”
The second half that evened up a bit.
“We played a bit more ball in hand,” Prowse said. “The boys have got points in them when they play ball in hand.”
State U15s rep James Hawkins forewent state training for the day and had a big influence on proceedings.
He scored two tries but was also strong in defence.
The backrow also really stepped up, Prowse said, particularly Lachlan Etheridge, and the front row against a strong front row.
Brennan Sinclair helped keep the Magpies in it with a try and two penalties.