Souths Sharks have bounced back from their first-week finals loss to the Whitsunday Brahmans in the Mine Wealth and Wellbeing Cup by ending the season of the spirited Wests Tigers outfit in the Elimination Final at the Mackay Junior Rugby League Grounds.
In a rematch of the 2014 MDRL Grand Final, the Sharks and the Tigers both knew a loss would spell the end of their season, and a fiery encounter was expected.
The Sharks came out hard early on, smothering Wests with a relentless attacking display right from the opening kick-off. Despite conceding two line dropouts and a penalty in the opening five minutes of the game, Wests persevered through determined defending and kept the Sharks at bay.
The Tigers almost found themselves on the scoreboard not long after, with a huge break made down the sideline from Blake Atherton after he exploited the overlap on Souths edge defence. Only a desperation last-ditch tackle from the Souths cover defenders saw Wests denied, Atherton pushed into touch a metre away from the try line.
With momentum on their side the Tigers kept rolling forwards, and they found points on their second trip to the Sharks end of the field with Andrew Davey on the receiving end of a neat cut out pass to score in the corner for Wests and gain a 4-0 lead.
The Sharks were keen to retaliate and they did so when Nathan Kepa exposed the over-eager Tigers defensive line with a tricky little midfield chip and chase, regathering his own kick on the full and scoring without a hand laid on him. Adam Wright kicked the Sharks into a 6-4 lead, and that’s the way it stayed until halftime as a combination of good defence and poor offence from both teams saw several opportunities go begging.
Now that they had the lead, Souths were looking to extend it as the second half began. Some composed play and simple catch and passing were all the Sharks needed to increase their lead as Dan Hilly strolled over for an easy try against some weak Tigers defence.
The Sharks halves pairing combined for their next try with Yosepha Kepa slicing through two Wests tacklers and into clear pasture, before drawing the defence in and sending Grant Rovelli away unmarked to score under the posts. Wright converted the try to push the gap to 12 points.
With everything going against them Wests were looking for something to go right, and a slice of luck suddenly had them back in the game when the ball ricocheted off a Souths player and into the waiting arms of winger David Cooke who raced away to score.
Wests good turn of fortune continued when a penalty gave them great attacking position, and they found themselves further bridging the gap to Souths by crashing over to score from short range. Brad Lovern converted the try to put Wests within touching distance at 16-14.
With the margin dwindling Souths were desperate to maintain control of the contest and Yosepha Kepa sparked his team to life with a dazzling display of footwork and speed, surging past three Wests defenders and wrestling his way over the try line to give his team some breathing space once more. Wright’s conversion took the score to 22-14.
Wests winger Andrew Davey made sure the game remained a contest for a little while longer when he latched onto a short ball from his halfback and raced clear to reel the Sharks back in at 22-18 with a quarter of the game remaining.
But soon after the Tigers were dealt a cruel blow as a horror bounce off a last tackle grubber kick saw the ball deceive both Wests’ winger and fullback, only for the Sharks to dive on it and claim the try. Wright added insult to injury when he guided his sideline conversion through the posts to take the margin to a neat 10 points.
With three minutes on the clock the Sharks finally put the deflated Tigers to the sword, Dan Hilly scoring his second try of the game as he all but walked past the outnumbered Wests defensive line on an overlap to give Souths an unassailable 32-18 lead.
The Wests players slumped to their haunches with a sense of deja vu as fulltime sounded, their season ended once again by the Souths Sharks in a convincing loss. While Souths would move on to the Preliminary Final with the hope of keeping their MDRL dynasty alive against the Minor Premiers Sarina Crocodiles.