Everything that has a beginning has an ending.
Sure, but not yet for North Tamworth – their home winning streak extended to 34 matches with a 26-24 defeat of Gunnedah in a pulsating qualifying final at Jack Woolaston Oval on a chilly and windy Sunday afternoon.
To keep that proud record intact and book a major preliminary final appointment against minor premiers Kootingal-Moonbi at Kooty next Sunday, Norths had to erase an 18-6 halftime deficit against an in-form side propelled by a new-found self-belief whose origins can be traced back to their 42-16 defeat of Norths at Kitchener Park on July 21.
The Bears had their revenge this time. And if Gunnedah are to win their first premiership since 1998, they will have to do it the hard way, although it would not surprise if they won the comp.
The winner of the Bears-Roosters clash advances to the grand final, while Gunnedah hosts Werris Creek on Saturday in a knockout match, after the Magpies beat Narrabri 42-14 in an elimination final at the Creek on Saturday.
Bears captain-coach Scott Blanch said Sunday’s encounter was a “good battle”.
“That was finals intensity for the full 80 [minutes],” he said. “You couldn’t take your foot off the pedal at all during that game.”
Blanch opened the scoring with a strong close-range try about midway through the first half, with Gunnedah responding immediately when lock Hayden Smith crashed over next to the left upright to make it 6-6 after DJ Smith’s conversion.
Gunnedah doubled their lead when hooker and captain Callum Hayne went himself from dummy half a few metres out from Norths’ tryline and Smith converted.
They extended the margin to 18-6 just before the break when Smith grubbered inside Norths’ 20 metre zone and electrifying No.1 Dylan Lake pounced on the ball in the in-goal area.
Norths scored early in the second half when replacement prop Bill Jeffery bulldozed his way over next to the uprights. And they struck again in the 52nd minute try when winger Zac Nigro scooted over in the left-hand corner after centre Tristram Morris supplied the final pass inside Gunnedah’s 10m zone. Back-rower Jake McManus missed the kick and it was 18-16.
Gunnedah extended their lead to 24-16 via a powerful close-range try to prop Kye Conlan, before Bears winger Colby La-Chiusa posted the try of the match – an 80m solo effort down the eastern touchline in which he brushed off Lake to cross out wide. McManus missed the conversion and it was 24-20.
Seven minutes later veteran prop Shane Wadwell exploded on to a Blanch pass inside the Bulldogs’ 20m zone and dove over near the uprights. McManus converted – 26-24.
Bulldogs coach Sean Hayne lamented his side’s brain fades. “We did some dumb things,” he said. “[We] handed the ball over and let in some soft tries in the end. We had our chances.”
NORTH TAMWORTH 26 (Shane Wadwell, Colby La Chiusa, Scott Blanch, Bill Jeffery, Zac Nigro tries; Jake McManus 3 goals) d GUNNEDAH 24 (Dylan Lake, Callum Hayne, Hayden Smith, Kye Conlan tries; David Smith 4 goals).
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