Albany Creek Gaters secured a spot in this Saturday’s Premier Grade grand final, with a hard fought 34-22 victory over West Brisbane Panthers in the Brisbane Second Division Rugby League.
West Brisbane made the Gaters fight until the very end to ensure a rematch with Ted Beaumont trophy opponents and minor premiers Brighton Roosters at Suzuki Stadium.
A battling performance by ex-Canterbury Bulldog and Melbourne Storm player Nathan Sologinkin, proved to be the pivotal point in notching up a nerve-racking victory that saw the veteran prop and captain play his part in a tough uncompromising game leading from the front.
The Panthers, in fine form, were first to secure points on the scoreboard when winger Andross Cole beat his opposite man on his outside to narrowly plant the ball down in the corner.
In Gaters true form, they replied with a razzle dazzle effort of their own, with centre Richard Martin bursting through a gap.
He found his flanker Matt Dunphy in support who raced away to score under the sticks to level the game. Matt Lennon made no mistake with the conversion to see the Gaters with an early 6-4 lead.
The Panthers, who were without towering prop Shane Livingstone through injury, still had the troops to match it with the aggressive Gaters pack.
Workaholic Panthers lock Tyrone Lockery, second Rower Jeremy Mckay and hooker Callum Stewart were getting through a mountain of work in defence.
However, in-form Gaters prop Morris Hodges would see the score increase, after a kamikaze style run saw the hulking front rower crash through a wall of Panthers defence to go in beside the sticks.
At 12-4, it appeared the momentum was shifting towards Gaters in attack as fast play-the-balls and the astute kicking game of Lennon, was turning the tired Panthers forwards around.
But as the bullying tactics were not going to be tolerated by coach Shane Kiss’s Panthers, West Brisbane turned on a try spectacle of their own.
Some clever lead-up work by Lockrey saw Panthers fullback Jardii Nean chime into the backline to slice his way through the Gaters defence to go in and score in the 31st minute.
Gaters hit back though, with crafty five-eighth Issak Gordon honing his skills that saw a dummy taken by the Panthers and he would find lock Rueben Lennon in support who had daylight in front of him to score under the sticks.
At this stage of the game and with three minutes to halftime, halfback Lennon, Sologinkin and second rower Anthony Gadd were still steering the ship.
It would be Gadd whose ball-playing skills found centre Martin on his outside and the scrambling defence of the Panthers was no enough to see the powerful three quarter touchdown to see the halftime score at 22-10.
Nobody could have guessed such a closely contested, fascinating encounter was in store as the Panthers staged an explosive second-minute try in to the second half courtesy of halfback Jonathon Dore.
His beautiful spiral pass found Nean again and the quality fullback was in for his second try of the match.
A sensational sideline conversion from pivot Lane in the windy conditions pegged the scoreline back to 22-16.
Lane’s smart footballing brain saw the five-eighth use the gusty westerly winds to his advantage with a towering spiral bomb that bounced off the crossbar into the waiting arms of Lockery and the hardworking lock planted the ball down under the sticks.
Gaters having looked comfortably, completely in control of the game at 22-10, didn’t expect the late rally by West Brisbane having the Gaters clinging desperately now onto a 22-22 scoreline.
However, some quick thinking by Gaters coach Dean Crowe saw him chop and change his replacements onto the field and the fresh legs appeared to work in his favour as the Gaters would go in again under the sticks.
As the game was winding down, some frustration was creeping into the game and with a host of penalties against the Panthers, Gaters capitalised on the good field position to inch closer to the opposition’s tryline.
Fittingly, tireless Gaters hooker Alex Crust would seal the Panthers fate with a minute to go, as he received a sneaky ball from Ken Aunese and the busy hooker dived over to secure the Gaters a hard fought victory.
Final Score: Albany Creek Gaters 34 West Brisbane Panthers 22