The loss of several key players didn’t slow the momentum of the Essential Coffee Burleigh Bears who secured their fifth consecutive win; a 28-16 result over the Mackay Cutters yesterday.
Playmaking trio Jamal Fogarty, Pat Politoni and Dallas Wells were all unavailable; with forward leader Paterika Vaivai also a late withdrawal due to his call-up to the Gold Coast Titans team.
In their place Daniel Schwass, Jacob Grant, Tyler Sparks and Ricardo Parata all returned to the side while Chris Law shifted into the starting dummy half role.
Out of finals contention and with key players missing, the Bears may have had an excuse to not perform; but with veteran forward Darren Griffiths running onto Pizzey Park for the final time, his team-mates lifted.
“I thought it was one of our better wins all year,” Bears coach Jim Lenihan said.
“It was a big deal for us to try and send Griffo out on a high in his last home game. He’s been a great person and a great player at the club for the whole time he has been here.
“I’m very proud of the boys for putting in a big effort for Griffo and it’s indicative of how much Griffo means to them that they would put in that sort of performance to make sure he goes out a winner.”
As expected, the game was a tight affair between two teams that have hit form over the last month.
Mackay struck first in the ninth minute through Braden Uele before Law put Luke Page over in the 14th minute to get the home side on the board.
Uele snagged his double in the 26th minute to regain the lead for the Cutters, but two quick tries before the break – one to Sami Sauiluma and the other to Kurtis Rowe – gave the Bears a 16-12 halftime lead.
The Cutters drew level again shortly after halftime thanks to a Bennett Leslie try, but the Bears still had the upper hand.
A Connor Broadhurst try in the 53rd minute gave the Bears some breathing space, while Sauiluma’s second in the 64th wrapped up their fifth win on the trot and their eighth in their past 11 games.
With four key players missing, the Bears pulled together and produced a committed team effort.
Standouts included co-captain Jamie Dowling who had a hand in two tries, Matt White in the middle, Sauiluma with two tries in the centres and Law who excelled playing long minutes at hooker.
While the Bears are out of contention for the 2017 finals series, the way they are finishing the season should give fans hope that with a better run of luck and injuries, they can bounce back into the finals race next season.
“It’s a great reflection of the place when the group really plays well and they grit out a tough win against good opposition in a game where we probably could have been forgiven for not having the best game because of who was out; yet they turned up and put in a wonderful performance,” Lenihan said.
“Even though it is a little bit disappointing that we’re not going to make the finals, to finish the way we have has been a good boost for the club and a good boost for this group of boys.
“Hopefully we’ll keep the same group of boys going into next year for the most part and barring injuries we can hopefully take off from the way we’re finishing this year.”
Next weekend, the Bears have a bye while the Cutters will travel to Ipswich to face the Jets.
BURLEIGH BEARS 28 (Sami Sauiluma 2, Luke Page, Kurtis Rowe, Connor Broadhurst tries; Connor Broadhurst 4 goals) def MACKAY CUTTERS 16 (Braden Uele 2, Bennett Leslie tries; Jack Joass 2 goals) at Pizzey Park.