THE ABSOLUTE Enterprises Mackay Cutters will be left to rue two crucial competition points gone begging after falling short in a spirited comeback against the Northern Pride at Stadium Mackay yesterday.
With the critical 6th spot on the Intrust Super Cup ladder on the line for both teams, the defending Intrust Super Cup premiers showed their class and composure in controlling most of the game, and then withstanding a whirlwind Mackay comeback to claim a highly entertaining 26-22 victory.
The Cutters were on the back foot right from the kick-off, conceding back-to-back penalties and a goal-line dropout in the opening minutes.
Some determined Mackay defence kept the visitors at bay initially, but the early workload soon took its toll. Ryan Ghietti put a pinpoint chip kick over the Mackay defence and a flying Javid Bowen performed a juggling act in reeling the ball in before planting it on the turf for the first try of the night.
After being stuck in the trenches on their own goal line for most of the opening period, the Cutters soon got the break they were looking for, and a relieving penalty saw them on the attack at last.
Mercurial playmaker Liam Taylor made no mistake in seizing the opportunity as he sliced through the Pride defensive line off the back of some quick passing to level the scores, then converted his own try to give the Cutters a 6-4 lead.
The Pride proved themselves the ultimate opportunists, soon finding themselves back in front after the Cutters were caught napping off a tap restart. Luke George tapped the ball on his own 20m line and raced past several Mackay players with their backs turned, sprinting into open space and all the way to the try line on an 80m surge, leaving many Mackay players red faced. Javid Bowen kicked the conversion and the visitors were back in control 10-6.
The Pride then began turning the screws as the momentum of the game began to shift in their favour. Ill-discipline from the Cutters had the Pride waltzing down the field, and after several attacking sets of sustained pressure the hosts finally buckled. Spreading the ball wide as halftime approached, the Pride found themselves with an overlap on the Mackay defence and a fortunate bounce of the ball saw Bowen score. The try sent the Pride into the sheds at halftime with a 14-6 lead.
The Pride wanted to keep the momentum going into the second half, and that’s exactly what they did as halfback Sam Obst penetrated some soft central defence on the Cutters try line, squeezing between two players and across the stripe to extend the visitors lead to 20-6.
Mackay could feel the game beginning to slip away and were determined to salvage something from the contest in front of their home faithful. They had several opportunities to get back in the contest, but the Northern Pride held firm. Cameron Cullen got as close to scoring as he possibly could have after receiving a brilliant Jordan Pereira flick pass, only for some desperate Pride cover defence to hold him up over the try line and deny him a four pointer.
With a quarter of the game remaining, the Northern Pride finally caved under pressure and it was winger Pereira diving onto a perfect Taylor grubber kick to the corner, and the gap between the two teams was reduced to 10 points.
Ever the clutch player, Taylor nailed a pinpoint 40/20 kick from out of nothing to give his side critical field position for a counter attack. Ben Jones made sure Taylor’s play wasn’t in vain, storming through several Pride defencemen to score for the home team. Taylor kicked the extra points and the game was back in the balance at 20-16.
Desperate to keep the Cutters at an arm’s length it was the Pride wingers combining for the next try to push the away team clear again. A simple catch-and-pass from Bowen to Luke George saw the Cutters outmanned close to their try line and they were unable to cover the overlap as the Pride extended their lead once more. Bowen neatly slotted his conversion from the sideline and the margin was 10 points once again.
The Cutters proved they weren’t going to die wondering against their Northern rivals, even as the clock bled down to the final minute of the game. Sam Clune found himself on the scoresheet as he darted over to score next to the posts with literally seconds remaining. Taylor kicked a lightning quick conversion as the Cutters raced back to the restart.
Left with one throw of the dice, the Cutters opted to spread the ball wide quickly, but as the fulltime siren blared a ring of Pride defenders put an abrupt end to Mackay’s final attacking raid. The result put the Pride into outright sixth place on the Intrust Super Cup ladder, though Mackay remain within touching distance of a finals spot in seventh place.
NORTHERN PRIDE 26 (Javid Bowen 2, Luke George 2, Sam Obst tries; Javid Bowen 3 goals) def MACKAY CUTTERS 22 (Sam Clune, Jordan Pereira, Ben Jones, Liam Taylor tries; Liam Taylor 2, Buchanan Rawhiti goals) at Stadium Mackay.
Mackay Cutters: 1. Sam Clune 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Ben Jones 4. Justin Tavae 5. Buchanan Rawhiti 7. Cameron Cullen 6. Liam Taylor 8. Brad Lupi 10. Pulou Vaituutuu 9. Brenden Treston 13. Chris Gesch (c) 20. Steve Rapira 12. Tyson Martin 15. Joss Boyton 18. Ryan Kinlyside 14. Aleki Falepaini 11. Mitch Day
Northern Pride: 1. Linc Port 2. Javid Bowen 3. Brett Anderson (c) 18. Semi Tadulala 5. Luke George 20. Ryan Ghietti 7. Sam Obst 8. Jack Svendsen 9. Jason Roos (c) 10. Patrick Kaufusi 11. David Murphy 12. Graham Clark 13. Ben Spina 14. Keelan White 15. Tom Hancock 16. Sheldon Powe-Hobbs 17. Brent Oosen