A great game was expected on Friday night when the fifth-placed Mackay Cutters faced the ladder-leading Townsville Blackhawks and the two teams delivered in front of a massive crowd at Stadium Mackay.
The stage was set for a titanic battle as the Blackhawks looked to live up to their reputation as premiership favourites, while the Cutters wanted to keep their spot on the ladder secure, and claim a big scalp in front of a near sell-out home crowd.
Both sides came out firing and were looking to rattle one another early. It was the Cutters making the first mistake of the game, almost handing the Blackhawks an early try, but poor execution from the Townsville team let them down.
The Cutters kept the away side honest, and back-to-back penalties saw them presented with a great opportunity for first points. They were unable to come up with them then however, but instead forced a goal line dropout and where unable to capitalise.
The tense, see-sawing battle between both teams continued right through the first 40 minutes, highlighting just how even the two teams were. The Blackhawks had the better of both possession and field position throughout the first half, but silly errors at crucial times combined with some desperation Cutters defence saw both teams head to the sheds at halftime scoreless.
The second half at Stadium Mackay started with a bang. With the Blackhawks deep on the attack and looking certain to score, Cutters half Liam Taylor latched on to a cut-out pass destined for the Townsville winger, and raced away. The Blackhawks defence swarmed on Taylor, and after an 80m burst they brought him down, and the ball popped free and Townsville were able to regather possession.
Off the back of that recovery, Townsville made Mackay pay dearly. From dummy half, Blackhawks fullback Jahrome Hughes wriggled through the Cutters marker defence with a show and go down the short side. His pass found halfback Michael Parker-Walshe on the outside of the Cutters winger and in clear space, and he raced 70m to score the first try of the game.
Desperate to not let Townsville get away, the Cutters poured the pressure on the Blackhawks, peppering their goal line defence and finally, the Cutters struck.
Quick passing saw the sliding Blackhawks defence unable to keep up, and Cutters winger Jordan Pereira sliced through a gap from short range to score. Taylor nailed the tough conversion from out wide to level the scores at 6-6.
Townsville reasserted their lead minutes later, when a towering bomb was spilled by Cutters fullback Sam Clune, and Blackhawks winger Johnathan Rueben pounced on a fortunate bounce to score.
With the home crowd willing them on, Mackay went looking for more points against their talented opposition, and it was cool-headed halfback Taylor that provided the spark. Keeping a level head, Taylor put in an inch perfect chip kick into vacant pasture behind the green and white wall of Townsville players. As the ball trickled to the in goal, it became a footrace between Mackay’s Buchanan Rawhiti, and Townsville’s Hughes. Inches inside the dead ball line, it was Rawhiti’s hand planting the football down and bringing the Cutters right back into the contest.
With the game in the balance, and six minutes remaining on the clock, the Blackhawks were awarded a penalty within kicking distance of their goalposts. Kyle Feldt stepped up to the mark, and coolly slotted the 35m penalty conversion to nudge Townsville in front 14-12.
As the clock bled down to the final seconds, the Mackay Cutters were left with one final throw of the dice. A barrage of attack had the Blackhawks defence straining to hold the Cutters out, and with 20 seconds on the clock Michael Sio burrowed his way through the Townsville defence, seemingly planting the ball on the line and handing the Cutters a famous victory however, he was ruled to have dropped the ball over the line and the Blackhawks held on for their 10th win over the season.
TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 14 (Zac Santo, Michael Parker-Walshe tries; Kyle Feldt 3 goals) def MACKAY CUTTERS 12 (Jordan Pereira, Buchanan Rawhiti tries; Liam Taylor 2 goals) at Stadium Mackay.
Mackay Cutters: 1. Sam Clune 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Zack Walker 4. Justin Tavae 5. Buchanan Rawhiti 6. Cameron Cullen 7. Liam Taylor 8. Brad Lupi 9. Michael Sio 10. Chris Gesch (c) 11. Brenden Treston 12. Tyson Martin 13. Aleki Falepaini 14. Josh Chudleigh 16. Joss Boyton 17. Rory Kostjasyn 18. Ryan Kinlyside
Townsville Blackhawks: 1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Zac Santo 3. Noel Underwood 4. Kyle Feldt 5. Jonathan Reuben 6. Tom Humble 7. Michael Parker-Walshe 8. Lorenzo Ma’afu 9. Anthony Mitchell 10. Daniel Beasley (c) 11. Glenn Hall 12. Rhyse Martin 13. Neville Costigan 14. Nathan Norford 15. Chris McLean 21. Kelepi Tanginoa 17. Ricky Thorby