Devils, Panthers save best til last
Rugby League can be a cruel game sometimes. A fitting finale to the end of the normal fixture games in the Northside 2 competition delivered one last hurrah as a gallant Norths Juniors stole the show with a last gasp 24-22 win over a gutsy Mitchelton Panthers.
The Devils, needing this win and other results to go their way to make the finals, fell at the last hurdle just missing out on the top 4, as North Lakes Kangaroos pipped the Devils on for-and-against, both sitting on 40 points.
After only five minutes of play the Devils scored a scintillating runaway 90m try after Mitchelton’s Brent Gesch’s grubber kick on the last tackle bounced up for the Devils halfback who showed a clean pair of heels to outpace his counterparts to see the visitor’s starting strongly.
With Mitchelton’s side littered with International players from far away places such as Japan and Colombia and featuring players from the Latin Heat National side, the Panthers really gave the Devils a run for their money.
With the Devils having everything to play for and superbly led by five-eighth and captain Matt St Ledger, the Devils were in again after the gusty westerly winds were playing havoc with both sides’ kickers. The Panther’s kicked out on the full, which handed the Devils a penalty on halfway and within 2 minutes had sealed another 4 pointer.
St Ledger, using the ferocious wind to his advantage, kicked a fantastic sideline conversion to see the Devils motoring along at 10-0.
The Panthers, who were their worst enemies at times by making silly mistakes, still had a core group making inroads and frustrating the Devils with their never-say-die attitude. Fullback Ryan McDonald, second-rower Robert Burgin, prop Juan Espinal and lock Hafita Fuli all stood up for the Mud and Blood as they are affectionately known.
But it would be another mistake from the Panthers that would see Devils’ St Ledger scoop up a loose ball to find Anthony Wilson who made no mistake, crashing over to score to take the lead to the break at 16-0.
In a spiteful second period, an all-in brawl marred proceedings as players from both sides were dispatched to the sin bin for their involvement but, as the dust settled, the game would take a turn for the better.
Again, the Devils were exposing chinks in the Panthers armour and some lazy defence saw nimble hooker Joel Currie burrow his way over from dummy-half to further increase the lead for the visitors at 22-0.
Ignoring the scoreline, the Panthers finally got on the board courtesy of brilliant halfback Gesch who never stops for the full 80 minutes as he crossed for a great solo try. This is where the Panthers turned things around.
Another four pointer for the Panthers, this time to Craig Mattern, had the home side with a whiff of a comeback. A superb pass by Gesch found his man on the inside, who palmed off some brittle Devils defence to put the Panthers into double figures.
Not five minutes later, replacement player the heavily tattooed Adrian Hartge used his strength to power over in the corner to score a well-deserved 4 pointer to see the Panthers on the comeback trail at 22-14.
Incredibly, the Devils were now being outclassed by the home side and some superb vision by Panthers fullback Ryan McDonald saw the classy back chime into the backline to see the Mud and Blood coming home with a wet sail with a scoreline reading 22-18.
With both sides out on their feet in the searing heat, the Panthers still had enough endurance to cross again, this time through powerful lock Hafita Fuli. The powerhouse Panthers Islander sent the supporters into rapture with his incredible determination to level the scores at 22-22.
With McDonald having the weight on his shoulders to kick the winning goal, his conversion was taken away with the blustery wind to set up a pulsating last 60 seconds.
A short kick off from St Ledger saw the Devils regain possession but a penalty with 20 seconds on the clock for holding down by the Panthers saw St Ledger gifted with a penalty right in front of the sticks to seal one of the most unbelievable and gritty games of rugby league witnessed this year.
Norths Devils 24 def Mitchelton Panthers 22.