A flash of brilliance by the fastest man in the Intrust Super and a stroke of luck gave Northern Pride last gasp 18-16 victory at Piggabeen Sports Complex yesterday.
Departing Seagulls coach Aaron Zimmerle described it as one of the toughest losses he had endured in his five seasons as coach and skipper Sam Meskell was left equally devastated after his side led 16-6 with 10 minutes remaining after dominating the second half.
With 15 minutes left, left winger Brayden McGrady looked to have sealed the match for the home side when he was put into the clear by centre James Wood after the Pride lost the ball after returning a Meskell kick.
However, the decision was sent to the video and it was ruled Gulls halfback Phoenix Hunapo had knocked on as the ball was lodged loose from fullback Matthew Musumeci.
From having their heads down behind the posts and thinking the games was gone, the Pride lifted from the reprieve.
Yet five minutes later, the Seagulls again finally looked set to achieve their goal of getting off the bottom of the ladder when five-eighth Lindon McGrady chip-kicked on the last tackle and it was gathered by right centre Regan Muir-Ogle.
He had a three-on-one when he came to Gideon Gela-Mosby 20m out, who only three minutes earlier had been shifted to fullback by Pride coach Ty Williams in a desperate bid to lift his team.
Gela-Mosby intercepted Muir-Ogles’ pass, juggled it, then took off downfield, finding winger Shawn Bowen in support who scored under the posts for 16-12 with the conversion.
With five minutes remaining, the ball bounced Pride’s way again. Halfback Jack Campagnolo grubbered from 30m and the ball ricocheted off the boot off Lindon McGrady. Campagnolo kicked again with his left foot and back-rower Col Wilkie won the race for the ball to stun the Gulls. Jordan Bioni-Odo converted to give the Pride an 18-16 lead.
The Seagulls, who fielded their least inexperienced side in this match however still pressed for a rare win and after gaining possession with 90 seconds remaining, a half break by Hunapo and a pass to Lindon McGrady put them on the attack.
They received a penalty for holding down and after deliberation on whether to take the easy kick at goal which would have given them a draw, the instruction from Zimmerle on the bench was to go for the try to lift the Seagulls from the bottom of the ladder.
The Pride defence however with a second wind, held them out for the final three tackles, shutting down their last-ditch attempt to score.
In a game that was more entertaining than a 12v14 game had any right to be; the Pride led 6-4 at half-time after a try apiece; with Pride centre Bradley Stephen over in the 29th minute.
Two minutes into the second half, McGrady was over for his second after a shift to the left then fullback Jayden Baker, who was outstanding for the Seagulls, scored on the right for 16-6 after 53 minutes.
The Seagulls dominated play from then, until Gideon-Mosby’s stroke of brilliance swung the match.
He was a constant threat and proved the match-winner, while prop Sheldon Powe-Hobbs was outstanding as forward leader and young half Campagnolo directed the side well.
The victory lifted 2014 champions the Pride out of the wooden spoon zone, while Zimmerle’s hope of “singing the victory song one more time” rests on his team’s performance against minor premiers PNG, who they upset earlier this season, at Piggabeen this Sunday.
NORTHERN PRIDE 18 (Bradley Stephen, Shawn Bowen, Colin Wilkie tries; Jordan Biondi-Odo 3 goals) def TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 16 (Brayden McGrady 2, Jayden Baker tries; Lindon McGrady 2 goals) at Piggabeen Sports Complex.