It was a battle of the two bottom teams in the Open 1 North match between Brisbane Natives and Mitchelton.
Both sides would have a lot to prove with the loser to remain at the bottom of the premiership table. Natives led by the effervescent Ricky Bird with a wealth of Queensland Cup experience, was the orchestrator that saw the Natives heed off a late rally from the Panthers to run out eventual winners 22-14.
With Natives stretched to the limit with players, the Indigenous side turned it on with what players they had in an ‘in your face’ start to the game. Mitchelton slipped to another defeat after missing a string of chances throughout the match with dropped balls, kicks out on the full and bombed tries.
The Panthers on several occasions had numerous chances to score, but it was the aggressive defence of the Natives that held their own line with gusto and tackled like men possessed.
The first points of the afternoon belonged to classy centre Jerome Leedy who off a neat Anthony Gadd pass crossed out wide despite the challenge of a handful of defenders to make it 4-0. Gadd booted a monster kick from the touchline but it unfortunately hit the uprights.
However just as the Natives got started, they knocked on straight from the ensuing kickoff that saw Mitchelton only 10m out from their line. The Panthers halfback Daniel Rowe delivered a beautiful cut out pass to find his winger Jackson Hooper to score. The kick was unsuccessful from the sideline by Jared Lane and it was a tied ball game at 4-4.
Moments later and on the back of some awful handling by the Panthers, it was Jerome Leedy again with all of his power to create déjà vu once again with a powerful run down the sideline and take three defenders with him over the line to go ahead at 8-4. With Gadd this time nailing a superb sideline conversion, the Natives were back in front 10-4.
Having squandered a few try-scoring feats of their own, the Panthers could not string together a comfortable set of six and a turnover of possession saw a hungry Natives side take full advantage of the field position and they paid the price when Bird found an unmarked halfback Bayne who crossed under the posts. Gadd slotted through the easy conversion and the Natives were making a mark on this game.
But just as the Panthers looked down and out, a beautiful intercept try by five-eighth Lane saw him race away under the posts to score a well needed try making it 16-8. The classy Lane saw him convert his own try right on the half time hooter and saw a more respectable scoreline with the Natives leading 16-10.
With only five minutes into the second half, it was Bird with all his expertise who would go in next for the Natives as he stepped off his right foot, dummied the ball to draw the Mitchelton fullback and race away to score beside the posts. Gadd booted the extras to see the Natives cruise out to a 22-10 lead. This was now a test of courage for the Natives as with limited reserves and a tiring forward pack, they were up against a more youthful and energetic Panthers in the second half who were coming at the Natives with more vigour and venom.
Led by second rower Stewart Lowe and lock Trent Donnelly, the Panthers were able to make some easy yards up the middle which saw Panthers centre Patrick Bramwell relentlessly charge onto a nice pass by fullback Brad Rye and score in the corner.
With the difficult sideline conversion waved away, the Panthers could see some light at the end of the tunnel and only trailed by eight points at 22-14. As the game progressed a string of high shots by both sides finally came to a head in the 65th minute when an all in brawl erupted that saw both sides trade blows in a melee that would see Natives prop Sandown dispatched to the sin bin for 10 minutes and lock Gadd sent off by the referee.
As the dust settled, the Natives knew with only 11 players, it was backs against the wall stuff in the final 15 minutes to hang onto their slim lead. Repeated waves of attack by the Panthers was not enough to bust the Natives heroic defence and as a consequence were unable to add to their score and see the Natives run out winners 22-14 in a game that everything except the kitchen sink.