The Souths Sharks four-year stranglehold on the Mackay and Districts A-Grade Rugby League Competition is over, the juggernaut finally ended at the hands of an unwavering Sarina Crocodiles outfit on Sunday.
The Mine Wealth and Wellbeing Cup Preliminary Final saw the Sharks quest for a fifth consecutive MDRL Premiership came to an abrupt halt in front of a raucous crowd at the Mackay Junior Rugby League Grounds, as a disciplined and focussed Sarina side dismantled the defending champions with surgical precision.
Sarina came out with bad intentions early, their big men rattling the Sharks players with some bruising defence. Sharks danger-man Grant Rovelli was a key target for the Crocs defenders and he was rattled hard and often by the Sarina forwards. Sarina had the better of possession and field position in the opening quarter of the game, but poor execution and desperate Souths defence denied them any early points.
Despite copping a hammering early on, it was Rovelli laying on the first try of the afternoon for Souths, latching onto a pinpoint grubber from his winger to score beside the posts. Adam Wright kicked his conversion to put the Sharks up by 6.
A penalty soon saw Sarina presented with an opportunity to equalise, and that’s exactly what they did when Matt Hackett burst through a hole in the Sharks goal line defence to put the Crocs on the board. Ben Luey levelled the game with a successful conversion.
There was plenty of niggle going on out in the middle of the park between the two sides as several flare ups between players threatened to boil over amidst the intensity of the occasion. When the dust settled though Sarina seized control of the game, a bulldozing 20 metre run from their prop saw them put themselves into the lead of the contest. Luey slotted the extras to give his team a 12-6 lead.
The Crocs were unlucky not to lead by more as they spread the ball wide with the halftime siren blaring, a wayward final pass denying them anymore first half points.
The Sharks wanted to start the second half with a more controlled approach, but it went instantly awry when they spilled the ball on the opening hit up of the half, giving Sarina an opportunity to extend their lead further. The Crocs would need no second invitation, as a spiralling fifth tackle bomb deceived Sharks fullback Luke Vaccaneo, the ball trickling over his right shoulder and into the hands of Ben Luey who swooped onto the ball for Sarina’s third try of the game. He converted his own try to push the margin to 12.
The try seemed to further diminish the confidence of the Sharks side, and they began making crucial errors and inviting Sarina into attacking territory. Sarina took full advantage of the good field position, bursting up the middle of the field and storming over the try line to post yet another converted try on the Sharks.
With 10 minutes remaining time was becoming Souths worst enemy. And when they dropped the ball yet again coming out of their red zone, Sarina sensed their chance to put the final nail in the coffin. It was second rower Ben Buchholz who did the honours, charging onto a short ball and scything through several Sharks defenders to score. Ben Luey slotted the conversion from right in front of the posts, and any glimmer of hope the Sharks had of a Hail-Mary comeback had been extinguished.
With the reality of the situation setting in, the Sharks knew they were simply playing for pride now. Corey McGannon scored off a great pass from Rovelli, and Adam Wright added the extras. Then minutes later the Sharks crossed again through some soft Crocodiles defence to make the score line a slightly more respectable 30 points to 18.
As the fulltime siren sounded to the cheers of jubilation of those wearing green and red, the Souths players slumped to the ground in defeat. A dynasty that stretched four Premiership-winning seasons had met its end. Amongst the dejected Souths players was a man who had played his final game of Rugby League, stalwart halfback Grant Rovelli.
In a career spanning 10 seasons, Grant had played Rugby League at NRL, QRL and International level. He made his NRL debut with the New Zealand Warriors in 2006, before moving onto the Cowboys in 2008, then captaining the Mackay Cutters in the Intrust Super Cup in 2011. At the end of the 2012 season, Rovelli made his only appearance for the Italian National Rugby League Team, playing against Fiji.
For the first time in four years a new Mackay and District Rugby League champion will be crowned when the Sarina Crocodiles face the Whitsunday Brahmans in the 2015 MDRL Grand Final. The two teams met in the Qualifying Final a week ago, a game that saw the Brahmans advance to the Grand Final with a thrilling 18-16 win. Both teams will come out firing and fireworks are sure to be expected!