The Sunshine Coast Falcons ended the season of the Easts Tigers at Suzuki Stadium, Langlands Park, yesterday as they came out on top with a 26-22 win in another typically close game.
The two teams had played twice in 2017 and been separated by a total of one point across both games.
Sunday’s encounter was not quite as close, with a hat-trick from XXXX Man of the Match Jye Ballinger giving the Falcons some breathing space – however, it was a tense and tight encounter from whistle to whistle. Both teams seemed aware of what was at stake and occasionally produced some panicked plays as they strove for the win.
The teams went try-for-try in the opening exchanges; with Mathew Pitman grabbing one of the more unusual tries in the Intrust Super Cup to open the scoring when he took the ball from Tom Butterfield, who was held up over the line, and dotted down for the Tigers.
Ballinger then scored his first of the afternoon when he was the recipient of an audacious ‘no-look’ pass from the equally impressive Jahrome Hughes.
The Tigers went back in front when the ever-dangerous Butterfield was the provider for Matt Zgrajewski. The Kumuls hooker ran to the line and drew two defenders before slipping the ball to Zgrajewski on his left who deployed a copybook hit-and-spin to get over the line.
Billy Walters converted both tries and added a penalty goal to see the Tigers lead 14-6 at the break.
While the Tigers had the better of the first half, the Falcons lifted in the second and got things rolling when Ballinger crossed for his second and then his third when a bouncing Ryley Jacks grubber found its way to him and he strolled over to score.
The Tigers hit back however when Jarrod McInally flew high in the 58th minute and reeled in a Walters bomb to score.
The Falcons scored two other second half tries to push out their lead; the first when an alert Guy Hamilton spotted the Tigers defence napping on the short side and shot down it, pulling in the defence and giving Chris Lewis just enough room to barge over.
Their last try of the day saw Scott Drinkwater go 25m to score after scintillating lead-up work from Matthew Soper-Lawler and Jeremy Hawkins.
However, the Tigers pinned the scores back with the last try of the day, which was also their best – Butterfield scooted from dummy half and passed to Walters who batted the ball straight on to Linc Port, who passed to Brayden Torpy, who in turn found Robbie Rochow who broke the line and burst 30m to score.
The defence of the Sunshine Coast was phenomenal as the Tigers spent the last few minutes of the game camped on the Falcons line, desperately pushing for the win. However, they will rue crucial mistakes in key moments.
In what was always going to be a close encounter, they simply allowed the Falcons too many chances and the Falcons are far too good of a side not to convert.
Next week’s game promises to be a spine-tingling affair as there is no love lost between the Falcons and Dolphins and both teams will be desperate to claim a place in the grand final.
SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS 26 (Jye Ballinger 3, Christopher Lewis, Scott Drinkwater tries; Joe Stimson 3 goals) def EASTS TIGERS 22 (Matthew Pitman, Matthew Zgrajewski, Jarrod McInally, Robert Rochow tries; Billy Walters 3 goals) at Suzuki Stadium, Langlands Park.