The future of Queensland rugby league is clearly in good hands, if today’s Mal Meninga Cup final is an indication. Under the watchful eyes of the man himself, the Townsville Stingers won an enthralling match 30-24 over the Easts Tigers.
The two teams went toe-to-toe with the lead changing hands frequently as both teams searched for the game-winning moment. In the end, it was a try to Stingers inside the final two minutes that proved the difference.
During the week, Tigers coach Andrew Barr had prophesised that this would be a game won in the middle and so it proved on the day. Whilst it was the outside backs that scored eight of the 10 tries scored on the day it was the the forward battle that decided this result.
The Stingers forwards were just a little too quick for the Tigers pack. Their short passing game was quick and crisp and Faron Morris, co-captain Rhein Frank and Ben Cocciolone took advantage of the great service from Calam Gahan to make plenty of metres and often had the Tigers on the back foot.
The Stingers opened the scoring in the sixth minute through Enari Tuala, who scored the first of his three tries.
A lovely run-around play between prop Morris and five-eighth Mitchell Dunn ensured the Stingers would have an overlap on the right hand and a player with Tuala’s pace was always going to be near unstoppable with even the smallest amount of time and space. The conversion attempt missed and the Stingers had an early 4-0 lead.
The Tigers struck back exactly 10 minutes later after some lovely lead up work by captain Ryan Cameron (who was one of the Tigers best on the day) and Daniel Brownbill saw Cameron Torpy carry three defenders over the line. Reece Braun slotted the conversion and the game had its first lead change as the Tigers took the lead 6-4.
At the 20 minute mark the Stingers put on a very similar play to the one that had led to their first try and got exactly the same result, Tuala over in the right corner and the lead had changed again, with the Stingers back in front 8-6.
As the half wore on the Stingers were starting to gain a measure of dominance as they had more time in possession and continued to batter the Tigers pack. With eight minutes to go in the half, the Stingers finally turned the dominance into points.
They took the ball to the far left edge of Tapout Energy Stadium before a series of quick, long passes gave Bacho Salam a saloon passage to the try line. Duarne Dempsey got the Stingers first conversion of the game and they were out to a 14-6 lead.
Not to be outdone, the Tigers showed that they could muster just as sparkling a backline play as a Brodie Croft cut out pass saw Joshua Holani in for the try. Braun converted and the two teams went to the sheds with the score at 14-12 to the Stingers.
The Tigers opened the second half all energy and attack which was starting to spark. With seven minutes gone, Jake Elmore burst though the defence to score and with the conversion from the ever reliable Braun gave the Tigers an 18-14 lead.
Before anyone had had a chance to retake their seats, the Stingers had gone 100m, Marshall Hudson had scored to lock it up at 18-18.
With 14 minutes remaining in the game, key Tigers forward Riley Leota was stung in a tackle that seemed to unsettle his team-mates and two minutes later Hudson, with a lovely inside ball, gave Salam a clear run to the line. Calam Gahan converted and the Stingers had regained the lead 24-18.
The see-sawing game continued with four minutes to go as a lovely interplay between Cameron and Braun saw Holani in for another try which Braun converted to tie the scores up at 24-24.
And so we come to the final minute, when one Tigers dropped ball opened the door for the ever present Tuala to swoop on the loose ball and score the game winning try.
This was a high quality affair that both teams deserved to win, neither team left anything in the tank and everybody involved can be immensely proud of their efforts.
In the end the Stingers were more professional in the crucial moments and finished slightly stronger to take out a well-deserved win.
TOWNSVILLE STINGERS 30 (Enari Tuala 3, Bacho Salam 2, Marshall Hudson tries; Marshall Hudson, Calam Gahan, Duarne Dempsey goals) def EASTS TIGERS 24 (Jake Elmore 2, Joshua Holani, Cameron Torpy tries; Reece Braun 4 goals) at Tapout Energy Stadium, Langlands Park.
Man of the Match: Mitchell Dunne (Townsville Stingers)
For more, visit...
Watch the video highlights from the match: Meninga Cup Final Highlights
See the photos from the match: Gallery - Meninga Cup Tigers V Stingers
Watch the video with Stingers coach Dick Walsh: Stingers go back-to-back
Watch the interview with U18 townsville captain: Mitchell Dunn - Lucky in the end