By John Bignell
The Central Crows fought to the last minute in their torrid game against Mal Meninga Cup leaders Townsville Stingers but missed out on a finals spot on for-against after a 27-10 loss.
The game began at a fast pace and a regathered charge down by the Stingers led to a surge downfield and a strong burst saw Jordan Kenworthy cross and Stingers were on the board with a 6-0 lead after four minutes.
Townsville continued to press forward but the defence of the Crows’ Ryan Palmer, Ben Marschke, Kyle Spry and Clayton Dodt kept the middle impregnable and the Crows withstood the pressure to hold them up over the line and force the turnover.
Ben Marschke took off downfield on a great run finding winger Tyson Whaleboat down the line and then back inside to Marschke but the ball went to ground.
It was hard to gain any advantage until a couple of penalties for laying on players in the play the ball gave the Crows some easy yardage.
Again the forwards took it up with Lachlan Reid and Dodt proving hard to bring down.
But a penalty saw Stingers regain possession and snapped them back into action, resulting in a kick to the wing on their final tackle being regathered and Jess Pomere-Anderson was over for their second converted try midway through the first half.
However, suddenly the Stingers knocked-on from the kickoff and were under immediate pressure with a deft sidestep sending Hayden Herbert into the clear and off to Daniel Kirk in support who bullocked over.
Herbert’s conversion meant the Crows had clawed back to 12-6 with fifteen minutes to go until the break.
Crows fullback Baidon Cooper soon made an amazing return upfield from a one-handed pickup but as the rain became heavier the players were starting to slip over and poor handling was almost becoming infectious.
Cody Maughan then took an intercept for the Crows and tore off downfield before the game became a little ugly with a melee forming followed four tackles later by another.
From the following penalty the Crows raced to the corner but the try was disallowed.
Michael Giles was proving hard to bring down and was being supported up the middle by Haydin Elsebach and Jesse Marschke, who was finding space out wide.
The Crows were now finishing the half stronger through solid discipline in rough weather and a great move from one side to the other found Kaddison Millard ten yards out and he carried two Stingers over the line to score in the corner and bring up a halftime score of 12-10 to the Stingers.
The Stingers came out firing after the break while the Crows were again slow out of the blocks and consequently found themselves down 18-10 when Ty Carucci finished off some dogged attack to cross after seven minutes of pummelling the line.
A penalty to the Stingers and a relieving kick downfield to the corner gained valuable field position which allowed Townsville to string together some great passes and send Rhein Frank through a despairing cover defence tackle and gave the Townsville crew a 22-10 lead after ten second-half minutes.
The Crows gradually took stock although they were finding it hard to compete without possession.
Giles put on a great shot and dislodged the ball and the game then became a tug of war with teams completing sets with good kicks and these were returned with long runs from Gela and Cooper at the back allowing the forwards to go at it in the middle.
Further heavy rain was making attacking forays extremely difficult so Townsville took advantage of great field position to convert a field goal with ten to go and put the match out of reach at 23-10.
The Crows still kept trying as Maughan scooted down the side line but the move broke down metres short of the tryline through Townsville’s great cover defence.
Coen Horan and Jakob Leitch were fresh legs in defence but their strong efforts in defence could not stop the run-on of the Stingers.
A turnover in another Crows attack and a subsequent Stingers penalty saw Townsville finished off the game for good.
Regan Grieve crossed from a strong charge against the weary and wet Crows to bring up the final score of 27-10 and the Stingers were in the Finals along with the Mackay Cutters who had a better for/against than the Crows.
Players Player for the match went to mercurial Baiden Cooper who threw his slight body into everything in both attack and defence and finished off a great season for him with an almost mistake free display in every game.
In the Cyril Connell Cup game the Crows tried hard but were overcome by the speed and coordination of a well drilled Stingers outfit that put on a great display of attacking football to run out winners 46-0.
It was obvious to all why Townsville are undefeated in this competition.
Jake Egan was dangerous at fullback and is developing into a more confident and complete footballer since his positional change.
The smaller players in Teykoa Nagas, Bronson Buggy Josh Ellems and Dylan Taylor tried hard all day and never shirked their responsibilities in defence often taking down much bigger lads than themselves.
Derome Mafi was well supported through the middle and edge by Laikyn Jung, Joshua Zweedyk and Jack Gauld with Toby Walker again proving that a front rower can get low in a tackle by continually chopping the legs of runners and proving strong with his hitups.
These players have a lot of talent and can look forward to much improvement as they develop and hopefully will all continue on and come through to the Meninga Cup next year.
After the matches there was a presentation of awards which was well attended by all families and supporters and it was encouraging to see this support for the players.
Awards were –
· Cyril Connell Players Player of Year Jack Kennedy Mitchell
· Cyril Connell Coach Encouragement Award: Josh Ellems - Gympie
· Cyril Connell Best Player for Year: Derome Mafi - Gladstone
· Mal Meninga Players Player of Year: Daniel Kirk - Hervey Bay
· Mal Meninga Coach Encouragement Award: Clayton Dodt - Gympie
· Mal Meninga Best Player for Year: Daniel Kirk - Hervey Bay
Thanks to coaches Darren Burns and Hayden Herbert, managers Darlene Bainbridge and Peter Gibbs, Assistant coaches Bob Leitch, Reece Maughan, Ken Crook, Scott Zahra and those who keep the lads on the paddock, our Sports Trainers, John Horan and Michael Brown.