The I Luv Coffee Burleigh Bears have qualified for their first Intrust Super Cup grand final since 2005 thanks to a 40-24 win over Redcliffe at Dolphin Oval yesterday.
Burleigh were the underdogs coming up against the minor premiers at a ground where they had won just once in their past 11 outings, but a flawless first half saw them jump to a 28-0 lead that the Dolphins couldn’t run down.
The Bears exuded intensity with every run and the decision-making was spot on in what was the best half of football they have played all season.
Coach Jim Lenihan said starting well was always going to be the key if the Bears were to secure the win and advance to the grand final.
“I was always hopeful of that, for sure, because we were certainly prepared for them,” he said of the dream start.
“We did everything right in the first half; we fought well, competed well and our energy was great.
“Obviously that first half was great, but it was a lot tighter than the score indicated and if anything, they were far more favoured to win the game coming in.
“But we did get to a good jump; our forwards did a good job and we made all the right choices early and came up with the points. We were desperate, which was good.”
With their home crowd cheering them on, the Phins threw everything they had at Burleigh in the second half and tried to claw back the huge deficit as the Bears lost several players to injury.
“We finished with just one on the bench in that second half,” Lenihan said.
“We took a big injury toll. Two went down right before halftime and then we lost another one in the first minute of the second half.
“We just had to make do with what we had, but we held on, which was great.
“We were a little bit more lethargic and the tank emptied and we struggled with our replacements.
“I had used my last replacement with 20 to go so had to fight for 20 minutes and (Redcliffe) were still shuffling on fresh blokes at the end. I thought our courage and honesty was great today.”
Burleigh fired the first shot of the day in just the fourth minute when Pat Politoni caught the defence napping from dummy half.
It was absorbing in the early exchanges as both sides hit hard in defence, but the Bears came out the other side when Politoni played short to Vaivai.
He crashed over close to the posts and the Bears jumped to a 12-0 lead.
From there, the Bears got on a roll. On the very next set, Politoni was again the instigator as he scooted out of dummy half in the middle of the field.
He got the ball to Vaivai who threw a lovely short pass to XXXX mon of the match Jamal Fogarty who found himself in the backfield. He turned in inside to Kurtis Rowe and suddenly it was 18-0.
In the 36th minute, it was Josh Ailaomai’s turn to add to the scoreboard thanks to an inside ball from Fogarty.
They went in again in the dying seconds of the first half when Waka Wanahi refused to give up on the play.
A long kick was bouncing in the in-goal and the Redcliffe defenders were willing it over the dead ball line as Wanahi snuck around to ground the ball and take the lead to 28-0 at the break.
The minor premiers were shell-shocked, but it was clear they would fire up in the second half and it took them just one minute to get the comeback started thanks to Jack Ahearn from dummy half.
Five minutes later, they went back-to-back as Brandon Lee scored in the corner to give the Redcliffe faithful a sniff.
Burleigh steadied the ship over the next 20 minutes and when Connor Broadhurst muscled over in the 64th minute, they again had some breathing space.
However, the late injection of Christian Hazard breathed new life into the Dolphins and they finished with a wet sail.
Hazard broke through the middle in the 68th minute to set up a try for Zach Strasser, before doubling up five minutes later, this time doing the groundwork for a Joshua Beehag try.
It was a remarkable put-down from Beehag and the Dolphins were alive; trailing by 10 with five minutes to go.
They peppered the Burleigh line, but the Bears held on until Broadhurst plucked the ball out of the air to score a 90m intercept try and seal the win.
The Bears now advance to Intrust Super Cup grand final at Suncorp Stadium, where they will play either Redcliffe or the Sunshine Coast Falcons on September 25.
BURLEIGH BEARS 40 (Connor Broadhurst 2, Pat Politoni, Paterika Vaivai, Kurtis Rowe, Josh Ailaomai, Waka Wanahi tries; Jamal Fogarty 6 goals) def REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS 24 (Jack Ahearn, Brandon Lee, Zach Strasser, Joshua Beehag tries; Darren Nicholls 4 goals) at Dolphin Oval.