An extra-time thriller saw the Middlemount Panthers advance to this year’s Central Highlands Rugby League grand final following a come-from-behind 34-28 victory over the Clermont Bears on Friday.
Middlemount got off to the dream start with Jack Masi scoring in the first 90 seconds to gain an early 6-0 lead, but once again, errors after the restart troubled the Panthers and the Bears capitalised with Dylan Breckon scoring under the posts to lock it up at 6-6.
The game was tit-for-tat for a majority of the first half until the Bears took control in the final 10 minutes, scoring two tries in the space of three minutes to enter the sheds up 28-16.
However, the second half was like two different teams had walked out onto the field.
The attacking prowess on display from the Bears on the fringes had dissipated and the Panthers capitalised, scoring two tries to make it 28-26 and then later slotting a penalty goal to level it up at 28-28.
The Bears defended set after set on their own goal line and kept the Panthers out until the fulltime siren, leading to extra-time.
With every supporter on the edge of their seats, the first half of extra-time came up with no points - but early in the second half, the Panthers capitalised after a dropped ball and Leigh Coghill barged over to score his third try and break the deadlock for the Panthers.
Coghill’s try ended up being the deciding points, with the Panthers winning 34-28 and earning the right to host this year’s grand final.
Mitch Wyatte was voted the man of the match for his efforts in steering the Panthers around in the halves, closely followed by Coghill for not only his three-try haul, but also his leadership and determination in the middle.
In the earlier Women’s game, the Clermont Bears qualified for their fourth consecutive grand final appearance following a narrow 20-18 win over defending premiers, Emerald Tigers.
Both teams struggled to hold the ball in the first half, but once the game settled, the quality of footy came to the forefront.
Travelling with only 17 women, the Tigers recorded first points after two minutes with Arnika Cave scoring the first of her three tries.
Clermont hit back with a further two tries in the 14th and 27th minutes before Cave scored again just before halftime to reduce the deficit to two at halftime.
The Bears looked sluggish early in the second half and the Tigers capitalised with two tries to gain the lead and be ahead 18-10.
With 15 minutes to go, experienced playmaker Tegan Rolfe, followed by Carly Bell five minutes later, scored the vital two tries to regain the two-point buffer, which the Bears were eventually able to hold up until fulltime to book themselves yet another appearance in the big dance.
Teawhi Anderson was named the player of the match for her efforts in the front row, carrying the ball forward and ensuring the Tigers weren’t going to break through the defensive line.
In Saturday’s minor semi finals, a bumper crowd packed into Bauhinia Park Springsure to watch the double header with the Blackwater Crushettes recording a 76-4 win over the Cowgirls and the Bluff Rabbitohs conquering the Mountain Men 24-12.
Mariah Storch was the Crushettes’ best, scoring four tries and kicking eight goals to record a personal total of 32 points.
The Cowgirls should be proud of their efforts with only 13 players due to injury and much like their season, there were no complaints as they just got on with the job of playing footy and competing for the full 70 minutes.
In the men’s eliminator, the Mountain Men and Rabbitohs could not be split at halftime, locked up at 6-6 despite all of Springsure’s possession and opportunities before the break.
In the second half, Bluff scored the opening two tries and even though the Mountain Men hit back through Matty Martell, the Rabbitohs iced the win in the 75th minute with a try to Peter McLaughlin and Ari Hannah added the cherries on top with a try on the fulltime hooter to drag a dagger into the home side’s stellar season.
The Rabbitohs once again started slowly but once they got going, they were unstoppable.
Blake Vesey was the Rabbitohs’ best at fullback, strong in defence and defusing the high-pressured bombs as well as joining the line to become an unpredictable weapon in attack.
Even though Springsure weren’t able to progress to the preliminary finals, they should be happy with the last two years.
They've gone from wooden spooners in 2015 to narrowly missing out on finals due to for and against last year and now this year making the playoffs – what will 2018 bring for the Mountain Men?
This weekend sees the preliminary finals in Clermont with the Emerald Tigers Ladies facing the Blackwater Crushettes for the final spot in this year’s grand final against the Bears.
In the Men’s game, fierce rivals, the Clermont Bears and Bluff Rabbitohs will meet again in finals footy playing for a date with Middlemount in next week’s decider.
SEMI FINALS RESULTS
MEN’S 1v2: MIDDLEMOUNT 34 (Leigh Coghill 3, Matt Heidecker, Jack Masi, Jamie Sullivan tries; Matt Heidecker 5 goals) defeated CLERMONT 28 (Will Mohr 2, Peter Hall, Patrick Payne, Dylan Breckon tries; Tom Murray 4 goals)
MEN’S 3v4: BLUFF 24 (Ari Hannah 2, Jack Dagan, Blake Vesey, Chris Conway tries; Peter McLaughlin 2 goals) defeated SPRINGSURE 12 (Kevin Kelbassa, Matthew Martell tries; Jared Owens 2 goals)
WOMEN’S 1v2: CLERMONT 20 (Carly Bell, Tegan Rolfe, Melissa Micallef, Mackenzie Beames tries; Kailah Rogers 2 goals) defeated TIGERS 18 (Arnika Cave 3, Zoe Bridgeman tries; Maddie Edmonds goal)
WOMEN’S 3v4: BLACKWATER 76 (Mariah Storch 4, Miranda Baker 4, Olivia Hamilton 2, Zoe Mackay, Megan Smith, Justine Fletcher, Megan Latchford tries; Mariah Storch 8, Zoe Mackay 2 goals) defeated COWGIRLS 4 (Claire Prior try)
PRELIMINARY FINALS FIXTURES
Emerald Tigers Ladies v Blackwater Crushettes
6pm Saturday, August 26 – Clermont Sportsgrounds
Clermont Bears v Bluff Rabbitohs
8pm Saturday, August 26 – Clermont Sportsgrounds