The Townsville Blackhawks solidified their place in the Intrust Super Cup finals hunt with a resilient performance, coming from behind to defeat the bottom-placed Absolute Enterprises Mackay Cutters in front of a full house at BB Print Stadium Mackay.
The North Queensland derby always holds a special place on the local rugby league calendar, and with cult NRL hero Matt Bowen named at fullback for Townsville, the Mackay faithful were out in force to see the highly-anticipated clash.
Things didn’t start well for the Blackhawks as they struggled to make any sort of inroads on the Cutters defence in their first few attacking sets, before turning the ball over deep in their own half to give Mackay their first attacking chance of the game.
The Cutters made no mistake as some quick passing saw the ball out to Liam Taylor who floated a perfect cut out pass for Johnny Faletagoa’i to score in the corner on the overlap.
Still struggling to mount any sort of pressure at all, the Blackhawks were only inviting more pressure on themselves, and their lackadaisical play was punished again as Faletagoa’i found himself steaming across for his second try of the night on Townsville’s right flank and pushing the Cutters lead out to 10.
The Cutters were unlucky not extend the lead further when Josh Chudleigh found himself in open pasture off a neat show and go from dummy half, but the Cutters only managed to force a dropout.
Unfortunately for the home side, key playmaker Taylor was forced from the field with an ankle injury during the play, and would not return.
With Taylor out of action, the Cutters needed someone to step up and provide a platform in attack, and after the Blackhawks conceded a penalty on their own try line it was returning halfback Delayne Ashby who put his hand up, faking the pass to his outside man and slicing through the Blackhawks defence himself to put the Cutters into a 14-0 lead.
For the first half an hour of the contest, the Blackhawks had looked a shell of the team that had scored 74 points the week prior, but they finally managed to muster up a response when Jahrome Hughes sent Lona Kaifoto into a yawning gap in the Cutters try line defence to open Townsville’s scoring at last.
With the momentum in their favour, the Blackhawks were looking for more points in the shadows of halftime, and a mistake from the Cutters gave them the opportunity they were looking for as Michael Parker-Walshe put Townsville right back in the contest, diving untouched under the posts off a set play and leaving the Blackhawks trailing by just two points at halftime, 14-12.
A productive first half gave way to a scrappy second half as both teams struggled to find any sort of rhythm.
Poor attack and stoic defence from both sides had them stalemated for the majority of the half, as a rising injury toll from both benches no doubt had the coaches on edge.
It took just under 70 minutes, but the final crucial blow was eventually landed by the Blackhawks when Mackay’s right edge defence was stretched thin and Moses Pangai barged his way over to put his team in front for the first time in the game.
Despite a last-second flurry of passing from the Cutters, Townsville would not relinquish their hard-earned lead and held firm for a gritty 16-14 win.
TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 16 (Lona Kaifoto, Michael Parker-Walshe, Moses Pangai tries; Matt Bowen 2 goals) def MACKAY CUTTERS 14 (Johnny Faletagoa’i 2, Delayne Ashby tries; Liam Taylor goal) at BB Print Stadium, Mackay.