As grand finals go, the 2017 edition of the Skytrans QRL Cape Cluster will go down as one of the best.
A large crowd turned up to see the undefeated Weipa Raiders take on defending premiers Lockhart River Scorpions in what promised to be a tough game of footy – and they weren’t disappointed.
Lockhart River were the first team to attack from the opening set and then stayed in Weipa’s half for three sets without reward before giving up a cheap penalty.
Some young rugby league fans at the Cape Cluster.
The Raiders then went about their work methodically; pushing the small forwards back with smart changes of angles from their big men, before sending the ball out wide to Ryan Madua for the opening try. Patrick Ropeyarn converted to give Weipa the early 6-0 advantage.
The game then settled into the arm wrestle, with Lockhart River looking to go wide at every opportunity to try and move the big Weipa pack around.
However, they were often let down by the last pass going to ground when opportunity beckoned.
Weipa however didn’t shift from the plan that worked all season, and kept the ball tight – but when in the right areas, shifted it wide.
Seven minutes from halftime, another dropped pass by Lockhart River was swooped on by the Raiders who went right on the attack.
This time, it was Max Mcall who scored on the back of three quick play-the-balls, combined with a tired retreating defence which gave free passage for the big prop to dive over.
Wayne Butcher’s men were looking for halftime, but they received more hurt before the break when Weipa put on a wonderful set play that saw the ball go through 10 sets of hands and 60m to end up with Alfred Bond to score under to posts.
The spirits of Lockhart River looked broken as Ropeyarn converted to give the Raiders a 16-0 lead.
The second half looked like it was going to be more of the same as Weipa pressed early on the Lockhart River line, only to be repelled by some last gasp defence.
That defence was rewarded 10 minutes into the second half, after Lockhart River pounced on an opportunity out wide; running around their opposition before a flick pass back inside opened a saloon passage for Isaak Rockby to score under the sticks. The conversion was successful for 16-6.
Weipa’s big men were starting to suffer in the hot conditions and Lockhart River’s pack were starting to make all the running – so it was Weipa’s turn to do the hard work of defending their line.
After repelling yet another attacking raid from Lockhart River, the Raiders again gave the ball away cheaply and the Scorpions went to work quickly – this time efficiently, firstly spreading the ball to the left and then coming back to the right for Smithy Bally to score.
More pain for the Raiders came when Cameron Jawai was sin-binned for dissent.
Lockhart River pressed hard again and with the one-man overlap, were finding gaps at will.
But the strong defence of Weipa kept them in the game and with seven minutes left on the clock, they were seemingly back in control of the game until the unthinkable happened.
Weipa – with a player still in the sin bin – were playing with 13 on the field and were duly penalised, marching the Scorpions back into attack.
Referees Roy Brown, Mick Inman, Bronson Ryan, Rod McCrae at the Cape Cluster.
Back-to-back-to-back penalties ensured that Weipa didn’t have the ball during the next few minutes and after lasting so long defending the line, they finally broke with Brandon Piva scoring adjacent to the posts. Piva converted his try and the game was locked up 16-16 with two minutes remaining.
From the restart, the Scorpions went immediately on the attack – firstly going right and pushing the defence back and then sending the ball immediately to the far left.
With a large gap ominously opening outside him, Brandan Ramsamy made a brave decision for the Raiders, coming in to stop the play; forcing an error and ending up with the ball with nothing but fresh air in front of him.
Ramsamy was tackled 25m short of the line, and with the ensuing play-the-ball, spread the ball wide.
Lockhart River snuffed out the play, but were penalised for not retiring; giving Ropeyarn an easy penalty conversion I -front of the sticks 20m out. He duly converted and with a little under a minute left, Weipa found themselves back in front 18-16.
Lockhart River tried to retrieve the ball with a shallow restart, but were unsuccessful and the game was over.
There were a number great performances across the field, including for Scorpion Dominic Macumboy who kept everyone on the edge of their seats whenever he received the ball, often beating several defenders to put his team in good positions to attack.
Brandon Piva from Lockhart River was another standout player on the park and duly picked up the man of the match award.
His defence against the bigger forward pack was resolute, while his attacking runs were full of purpose. His ability to pass the ball in traffic had the Raiders on high alert throughout the game.
For the victors, Matt Cuveton and Max Mcall took the ball up hard all game ensuring the line was continually bent, helping the back rowers to work wider.
Patrick Ropeyarn also had a great game with poise under pressure and using his footy brain well letting his outside backs loose at the appropriate time.
Man of Skytrans QRL Cape Cluster series, Jason Nixon was at his best throughout the game working off the back of the big forwards with some scheming runs while marshalling his troops well in defence especially in the back to back sets.
Coach of the Weipa Raiders, Karl Adams had a strong sense of relief after overcoming the fast finishing Scorpions. He paid tribute to all the players and stakeholders during his speech upon accepting the trophy off long time servant Rod McCrae.
Weipa Raiders 18 (Alfred Bond, Ryan Madua, Max Mcall tries; Patrick Ropeyarn 3 goals) def Lockhart Scorpions 16 (Smithy Bally, Brandon Piva, Isaak Rockby tries; Dominic Macumboy, Brandon Piva goals)