The I Luv Coffee Burleigh Bears outlasted the Easts Tigers 24-12 in a semi-final standard clash at Suzuki Stadium on Sunday.
Breaking a two-game losing streak, the Bears had to withstand a huge amount of pressure from a desperate Easts Tigers who were fighting to hold onto their spot in the top six.
The Tigers were particularly strong early on as they controlled possession and field position for the majority of the first half.
“Easts were in a position today where they were really in some danger if they lost, so their intensity was right up there like semi-final football,” Bears coach Jim Lenihan said.
“I think we got through the first half with around 40% of the possession, so for us to hold on like we did defensively after not being that great in our defence in the last couple of weeks was a real confidence boost for us.”
Easts got on the board first when fullback Young Tonumaipe’a broke down the left side in the 13th minute. He found his halfback Brodie Croft in support who crossed for the opening try.
That try came on the back of an outstanding opening period from the Tigers where they bustled their way up the field on numerous occasions.
The Tigers kept the momentum going, but the Bears were able to counter attack in the 19th minute when Jamal Fogarty made something from nothing.
Fogarty put up a somewhat innocuous mid-field bomb but stayed alive and got the ball back through support play. Fogarty kicked again and chased, regathering the ball in the in-goal and scoring a great try against the run of play.
Easts regained control shortly after and Brodie Croft stepped his way past five defenders to score out wide in the 24th minute.
The home team were in control, but the Bears started to claw their way back into it.
Kurtis Rowe had a try denied when the video ref overruled the on-field decision to say he was held up over the line in the 34th minute, but they kept the pressure on and were rewarded shortly after when Cam Cullen dummied and went over to bring the scores level at halftime.
Like they did in the first half, the Tigers came out of the blocks fast in the second stanza, but the Bears defence was up to the challenge, turning them away on numerous occasions.
It took until the 57th minute for the Tigers to post more points and it was only through a penalty goal.
The Bears had weathered the storm and took the ascendancy in the final 20 minutes.
In the 64th minute a grubber kick was pounced on by Louis Fanene which gave the Bears their first lead of the day, while a set play off the scrum in the 71st minute resulted in Kurtis Rowe slicing through the defence to score the try that sealed the win.
A 77th minute penalty goal brought the final score to 24-12, putting the Bears one step closer to a top two finish.
Fullback Kurtis Rowe was named XXXX Man of the Match thanks to another typically strong performance at the back, while the Bears forward rotation did an excellent job of countering the fired up Tigers in the middle.
Easts drop to seventh on the ladder as a result of the loss and now face a do-or-die game with Mackay in round 25 if they are going to play finals.
If they win, their fate will ironically be left in the hands of the Bears who take on sixth placed Souths-Logan Magpies at Pizzey Park next Sunday.
The Magpies will be desperate and Burleigh must win to clinch a crucial top two finish, guaranteeing another finals standard game for the Bears next week.
“I think it’s really good for us to be getting quality, semi-final football a week or two early,” Lenihan said.
“Hopefully we can learn from what we did today and keep building on it moving forward. It’s all about what happens between the ears now.
“We knew that Easts were always going to be prepared because their season was on the line. We had to be on our game and realise that the importance of finishing in the top two is still there for us.”
BURLEIGH BEARS 24 (Jamal Fogarty, Cam Cullen, Louis Fanene, Kurtis Rowe tries Jamal Fogarty 4 goals) def EASTS TIGERS 12 (Brodie Croft 2 tries Billy Walters 2 goals)