Scenes of jubilation erupted around Suzuki Stadium, Langlands Park yesterday afternoon when Tom Butterfield scored a late try to secure a 20-16 come-from-behind win over the Townsville Blackhawks.
After trailing for much of the match, Butterfield was able to put his side in front when it mattered, with Tigers captain Jake Foster describing the win as the game they needed.
“We will learn a lot from that, we can build from that and take it forward,” Foster said. “We just believed and believed and stuck to it.”
The Tigers, perhaps overawed by a home semi-final, were a little over enthusiastic in the first half; with a desire to score off every play leading to errors and an uncharacteristically low completion rate.
The Blackhawks by contrast were the epitome of a disciplined professional side early on and their defence was outstanding as they shut down anything the Tigers threw at them.
They opened the scoring in the third minute when a delightful Michael Parker-Walshe kick bounced up perfectly for a trailing Paul Byrnes. Kyle Laybutt converted and the Blackhawks led 6-0.
The Townsville forwards were rolling forward, dominating the Tigers pack and were creating a perfect platform for the creative Parker-Walshe, who sat back and revelled in the time and space.
He was at it again in the 19th minute when another deft kick led to a Blackhawks try to Jonathon Reuben flying high over the defence to pull in the ball and give his team the 10-0 lead.
With the halftime hooter ringing in their ears, the Tigers over enthusiasm cost them dearly.
A poor pass went behind Linc Port and Blake Leary scooped it up and fed Reuben, who scorched 80m to score in the scoreboard corner. Laybutt converted and the Blackhawks lead 16-0 at halftime.
Easts seemed to have calmed down after the break and the passes began to stick as they got back to playing the football that has typified their season.
They scored in the 46th minute when a lovely backline play saw Jarrod McInally over in the corner.
Both Billy Walters and Brodie Croft were prominent in the lead up, taking the ball and straightening the attack before passing.
The next try was almost a carbon copy, but starting further down field. A cutting Laybutt tackle ensured McInally would not score, however Walters was smart enough to take the ball from dummy half and squeeze down the narrow short side to bring the Tigers closer at 16-8 down.
Jack Svendsen scored in the 72nd minute with a hit-and-spin that took him over the line and Walters slotted the conversion to narrow the Blackhawks lead to 16-14 with seven minutes to play.
This thrilling match was far from over though but it seemed it would be when Paul Byrnes broke into space just 20m from the Tigers line.
He had the chance to free Reuben to go over and score, however a scything tackle from Young Tonumaipea made sure that would not happen.
And then it was time for Tommy Butterfield to step up. The Kumul Test player scored the match-winner in the 76th minute after superb lead up work from Walters and McInally.
The loss meant the end of the Cup careers of Blackhawks retiring stalwarts Anthony Mitchell and Michael Parker-Walshe who can hold their heads high after that performance. They were at the forefront of everything their team did and they gave team every chance to win.
EASTS TIGERS 20 (Jarrod McInally, Billy Walters, Jack Svendsen, Tommy Butterfield tries; Billy Walters 2 goals) def TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 16 (Jonathon Reuben 2, Paul Byrnes tries; Kyle Laybutt 2 goals) at Suzuki Stadium, Langlands Park.