THE Northern Pride and Easts Tigers played a cliff hanger of a game in Cairns last night that would have had traditionalists of the game singing for joy. In the end, a Shaun Nona penalty in the 60th minute was all that separated the teams and handed the Pride an 8-7 win.
The win granted the Pride direct entry into this year’s decider at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, September 28; with a grand final appearance adding to their dominant year which saw them take out the minor premiership.
A strong Pride side, boosted by the last inclusion of local hero Ben Spina (who made an unexpected return from a potentially season ending hand injury) did just enough to put away a Tigers side who were missing key players including starting hooker Tom Butterfield (suspension), five eighth Jacob Fauid and arguably their most consistent player Dane Hogan (ribs).
Pride co-captain Brett Anderson opened the scoring in the sixth minute after Ethan Lowe sliced between two Tigers defenders on the right hand side and gave Anderson a clear run to the try line.
Nona converted to give the Pride an early 6-0 lead. The try showcased Anderson's years of experience and highlighted why Lowe has featured for the Cowboys at times this year and it seems inevitable he will get more game time with the Cowboys next season.
In the 26th minute, livewire fullback Cameron Munster reminded everyone – if a reminder was needed – of exactly why he is so highly rated.
Off the back of some lovely second phase play by his forwards, he chimed into the backline and, using both his natural pace and swerve, created the extra man to allow Shane Neumann to get into space.
This was no saloon passage though, as Neumann had to use plenty of his own talent to seal the deal. Liam Tyson added the extras and scores were locked at 6-6.
The rest of the half, as with much of the game, was an arm wrestle as both teams tried, unsuccessfully, to achieve dominance.
Both teams enjoyed prolonged periods on attack and had some periods of dominance; however were never quite able to find the final blow to put the opposition away.
A combination of sensational defence and missed opportunities through dropped ball, silly last tackle options and ineffectual kicking cost both teams the chance to truly put their stamp on the game.
A Walker dropped goal with the half-time hooter sounding in the background gave the Tigers the tightest of 7-6 leads as the teams went to the sheds.
The only scoring in the second half came from a seemingly innocuous penalty which Nona chipped over from 20m out, to take the Pride to what eventually proved to be a game winning 8-7 lead.
In the second half, as both team scrambled for the decisive blow that would close the game out, effort came to the fore slightly more than execution.
Whilst plenty of opportunities were created, neither team was quite able to find the finesse needed to score again.
For the Pride, the combination between Nona and XXXX Representative player of the year Blake Leary looked as dangerous as it has all year and it is little wonder both have secured NRL deals for 2015. Javid Bowen was threatened every time he touched the ball and the Pride will doubtless be looking to get more ball to him and fellow strike weapon Semi Tadulala.
For the under-strength Tigers, second rower Troy Giess led the way and was a well-deserved players player. He was strongly supported by fellow forwards Felise Kaufusi and Steven Thorpe. Stand-in hooker Geoff Holcombe had his first Intrust Super Cup start of the season and directed play nicely, tackled ferociously and contributed a sensational 40/20 as well.
Next weekend, the Tigers will host the Wynnum Manly Seagulls at Langlands Park in the preliminary final, while the Pride will watch with interest to see who will be their grand final challenger.
NORTHERN PRIDE 8 (Brett Anderson try; Shaun Nona 2 goals) def EASTS TIGERS 7 (Shane Neumann try; Liam Tyson goal; Cody Walker field goal) at Barlow Park.
Northern Pride: 1. Hezron Murgha 2. Javid Bowen 3. Brett Anderson (c) 4. Davin Crampton 5. Semi Tadulala 6. Shaun Nona 7. Sam Obst 8. Ricky Thorby 9. Jason Roos (c) 10. Jack Svendsen 11. Blake Leary 12. Tyrone McCarthy 18. Ben Spina 14. Ryan Ghietti 15. Sheldon Powe-Hobbs 16. Ethan Lowe 17. Joel Riethmuller
Easts Tigers: 1. Cameron Munster 2. Jarrod McInally 3. Shane Neumann 4. Hymel Hunt 5. Richie Kennar 6. Liam Tyson 7. Cody Walker 8. Steven Thorpe (c) 9. Geoff Holcombe 10. Mitchell Garbutt 11. Kenny Bromwich 12. Troy Giess 13. Jacob Ling 14. Liam McDonald 15. Felise Kaufusi 16. Donald Malone 18. Liufau Hala