Hippity, hippity, hop; the Bluff Rabbitohs have taken the final spot in this year’s Central Highlands Rugby League grand final.
The Rabbitohs recorded a dominant 27-14 win over the Clermont Bears in Saturday’s preliminary final and now face the Middlemount Panthers in this year’s decider.
The visitors were first to score through Branden Ferguson in the fifth minute, but the minor premiers were quick to hit back through Peter Hall five minutes later after a courageous pass at the defensive line from Tom Murray.
The Rabbitohs were hungry to avenge last year’s exit in straight sets and scored three minutes later through Jack Laxton.
Lack of ball control and pushed passes cost the Bears possession and Bluff capitalised once again in the 30th minute with a try to Chris McKay.
At halftime, the Bears trailed 16-6, but came out the sheds with a point to prove and scored the first two tries in the opening 20 minutes to reduce the deficit to only two points, 16-14.
They were the only points the Bears could score in the second half as Chris Conway and Ryan O’Donoghue scored a further two tries for the Rabbits.
Peter McLaughlin then slotted a field goal with seven minutes to go to increase the lead to 13 points – a lead that would be against all odds to chase down.
The Rabbitohs controlled the ruck in the dying minutes to ensure a grand final berth and potential redemption after the Panthers closed the curtains on their season last year.
McLaughlin was named the player of the match for his cool, calm and controlled approach in the halves and will certainly be the key to the Rabbits’ success next Saturday.
The Blackwater Crushettes will make their maiden grand final appearance following a 38-20 win over the Emerald Tigers Ladies.
The Crushettes were the first to score with Shanae Mundt crossing the line after a well-executed backline in the third minute.
The Tigers’ attack was riddled with errors, but despite this, they were able to gain a 6-4 lead following a runaway try to Tigers fullback, Kelsie Parter.
Sadly for the Tigers fans, this was the only points for them in the first half.
The Crushettes dominated the remaining 25 minutes of the half with Mariah Storch, Olivia Hamilton and Miranda Baker all working well in the middle of the park.
The Tigers scored the first two tries in the second stanza and only trailed by four points after 15 minutes, but the Crushettes scored a further two tries to push the margin back out to 16 points.
With five minutes to go, Parter scored her second four-pointer, but it wasn't enough to spark a comeback as player of the match Zoe Mackay rubbed salt into the Tigers’ wounds right on fulltime with a try to put the result beyond doubt.
After three years, it’s the Crushettes’ first opportunity to bring the premiership trophy to the Coal Capital, but they will face a determined Clermont Bears outfit who will be looking for revenge after last year’s loss in the decider.
It’s set to be a big day in Middlemount next Saturday with the Women kicking off at 5.30pm followed by the Men at 7.30pm.
Two cracking games with premiership glory at the end of the two matches – it’s a night surely not to be missed.
PRELIMINARY FINALS RESULTS
BLUFF RABBITOHS 27 (Ryan O’Donoghue, Jack Laxton, Chris McKay, Chris Conway, Branden Ferguson tries; Peter McLaughlin 3 goals; Peter McLaughlin field goal) defeated CLERMONT BEARS 14 (Peter Hall, Bo King, Jack Slattery tries; Tom Murray goal)
BLACKWATER CRUSHETTES 38 (Olivia Hamilton 2, Mariah Storch, Miranda Baker, Zoe Mackay, Tasma Vesey, Shanae Mundt tries; Mariah Storch 5 goals) defeated EMERALD TIGERS LADIES 20 (Kelsie Parter 2, Maddie Edmonds, Casey Watkins tries; Maddie Edmonds 2 goals)
GRAND FINAL FIXTURES
Clermont Bears Ladies v Blackwater Crushettes
5.30pm Saturday, September 2 – Norm Blanche Oval Middlemount
Middlemount Panthers v Bluff Rabbitohs
7.30pm Saturday, September 2 – Norm Blanche Oval Middlemount