Samford booked a spot in this year’s Open 2 Northside grand final with a hard fought 22-10 win over a gallant Norths St Joseph’s at Matheson Oval Petrie.
The Stags defence was superb in this game, where for the best part of 20 minutes in the opening half, Samford’s forward pack had the upper hand over the Saints, superbly led by Michael Graham, Ben Gaunt and hooker Greg Heath who were not taking a backward step.
Despite St Joseph’s courageous showing in trying to hold out the more physical Stags pack, Samford eventually broke the Saints line with winger Scott Willard throwing a magnificent pass inside to five-eighth Recce Ketu who dived over too score the opening try.
A touchline conversion by Willard saw the Stags leading 6-0 early on.
With a grand final spot on the line, both sides were playing it safe, however Samford seemed to have that extra injection in attack that would see their next try on the back of an accurate 40/20 kick by halfback Callum Flynn.
Flynn was outstanding in this game and from the scrumbase, he fired out a brilliant cut-out pass to find the powerful Lachlan Creighton who made no mistake using his frame to crash in and score.
On three occasions in return, St Joseph’s wasted opportunities to go in, however the Saints were being pinned for forward passes as they were trying too hard to match it with the Stags.
A fourth occasion to score appeared certain for the Saints right on the stroke of halftime with winger Callum Malloy putting his body on the line to nearly cross, but was bundled into touch by four Stags defenders to see Samford leading 10-0 at the break.
St Joseph’s started the second half in fine style with a host of players involved in their first try, but in the end it was powerful replacement player Francis Pio who bulldozed his way over to see the Saints finally on the board in the 44th minute.
At 10-6, the game still had a long way to go. Saints impressive centre Jay Ioane Vaa, halfback Mitch Lonergan and fullback Mark Cox were a tower of strength for their side with all three players providing a showcase of skills.
Samford added to their tally on the scoreboard with a gift two points to Willard for repeated holding down in the play and the rangy winger stepped up to take the easy shot at goal to make it 12-6.
There is an unwanted tradition of high flying sides losing their focus at the business end of the season, but Samford look anything but that. Another superb four pointer to winger Adam Scells saw the bustling winger out pace his counterpart to slide in and score a fantastic Stags try.
At 16-6, it appeared the game was slipping away from the Saints, but centre Vaa was proving his worth outwide and his incredible fend would see him lob a ball to his prop Daniel Jones who took a mammoth of players to stop from close range to see the Saints on the comeback trail at 16-10.
Brisbane Rugby League legend and Samford coach Steve Hegarty can take a bow with his smart footballing brain. This man can coach. His composure on the sidelines was laid back and his clinical approach to his side’s style of play can ascertain why the Stags are minor premiers.
With the Saints attacking raids solely laying on the shoulders of halfback Lonergan and centre Vaa, take nothing away from the Saints gutsy effort against the more determined Stags. This determination would see one final try that could not have been written into this script better.
With Saints on the attack, a wayward pass found Stags Ketu who took an intercept from 15m out and he raced away to score under the sticks for his double and see the Stags one win away from grand final glory.
Final Score: Samford 22 Norths St Joseph’s 10.
In the other Northside 2 semi final, Wests Arana Hills will do battle with Norths St Joseph’s at Suzuki Stadium this weekend as they disposed of a brave North Lake’s Kangaroo’s 34-24.
With Arana dominating the game throughout, the Panthers were given a scare by the Roos as North Lakes piled on 18 unanswered points in the closing stages to go down in a thriller.