MANY pundits predicated the Northern Pride would play Tweed Heads in this year’s grand final.
But the heavyweight match up has now arrived a week earlier than expected, meaning only one of the big guns will be alive and striving for the Intrust Super Cup premiership on grand final day.
The Pride strode into the preliminary final clash with a comfortable 30-6 victory over the Ipswich Jets at Barlow Park.
However, Tweed’s semi-final date with sixth-placed Wynnum Manly didn’t go to plan.
The shock 12-point loss has pitched the Tweed into a daunting showdown with the 2010 premiers who toyed with an error-riddled Jets outfit in front of a big crowd in Cairns last night.
The Pride conceded the first try of the night after Ipswich’s Ian Lacey darted over from dummy half, but from that point on the home team was rarely troubled in a game that never reached any great heights.
The northerners led 20-6 at half-time on the back of tries from Jason Roos, Ben Spina and Chey Bird.
Bird knocked over all three conversions and a penalty goal to give the hosts further breathing space.
The Pride fullback scored his try right on the stroke of half-time in a crushing blow for the Jets who entered the semi-final with high hopes following the late inclusion of front-liners Marshall Chalk, Lorenzo Maafu and Trevor Exton.
Ipswich’s ball control disintegrated in the second half, although credit must be given to the Pride’s defensive line which never put a foot wrong when the Jets spread the ball wide to centres Donald Malone and Brendan Marshall.
Pride veteran Rod Jensen made the most of his time on the left flank with a two try-haul in the second half to put the result well and truly beyond doubt.
Jensen came off the bench to play on the wing after Mark Dalle Cort limped off with a leg injury that is likely to sideline him in next weekend’s preliminary final.
The Pride’s forwards again laid the platform for the victory, but it was hard to go past Spina as the pick of the big men.
The powerful back-rower displayed his determination with a bullocking first-half try and regularly bumped away Ipswich defenders with surging runs.
Ipswich’s best player was Nathaniel Neale, who never shirked the task at hand in a night his teammates would rather forget.
Although disappointed to bow out of the finals, Jets fans can take heart from their 2011 resurgence.
This time last season the Jets had collected the wooden-spoon but coaches Shane and Ben Walker have resurrected the club’s fortunes with virtually the same squad from 2010.