A late try to the returning Josh Ailaomai sealed a 32-22 victory for the Essential Coffee Burleigh Bears over the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the opening game of Round 1 of the 2018 Intrust Super Cup.
The Bears were outstanding in the first half, jumping to a 24-0 lead at the break, only for the home side to come charging back into contention in the second half to the delight of the crowd.
With 10 minutes to go, the Falcons had trailed by just six points and had all the momentum, but a clutch 40/20 out of dummy half from Pat Politoni gave the Bears some crucial field position.
With six minutes left on the clock, Ailaomai used sheer size to muscle over from close range and put the result beyond any doubt.
It was his first Intrust Super Cup game since the 2016 grand final as he missed the entire 2017 season with injury.
“You don’t realise how much you’re going to miss a guy like him until you don’t have him,” Bears coach Jim Lenihan said.
“He’s still had a little bit of a disruptive pre-season, so he’ll improve in some areas like his fitness, but I’d always rather be playing with him than against him.”
While the Bears will be unhappy they let the Falcons back in the game after taking such a commanding lead into halftime, there were plenty of things to like about their performance.
Their new attacking structures produced plenty of points, they defended their line stoutly through some extended periods and they managed to stay cool and close out the game when momentum was against them.
Lenihan said they would have to address their second half fade, but he was pleased with the team’s attitude.
“Winning or losing today wasn’t going to be the indicator of where our season is going,” he said. “It was more about us wanting to prove how much we respect what we’re creating at the moment and playing in a way that reflects that.
“We are playing a little bit different this year and sailing into the wind a little bit with some new ideas and I was pleased that we stuck to that and got some results.
“I thought defensively we were really good at times, especially in the first half; but then at different times we fell apart a little bit.
“Luckily we had the smart people out there to get us back on track and get us home.”
Jamal Fogarty and Politoni were two of those smart people, as they guided the team home with some excellent kicking and decision making at crucial stages.
In the middle, Matt White was a standout but could be in trouble having been put on report for a careless hit on Chris Lewis, while star recruit Blake Leary picked up Hastings Deering Man of the Match honours after an outstanding club debut on the edge.
The Bears play their first home game next Saturday when they host Redcliffe at Pizzey Park.
See full scoring details and final team lists at QRL Live--> QRL Live
BURLEIGH BEARS 34 (Hayden Schwass, Troy Leo, Luke Page, Henare Wells, Dallas Wells, Sami Sauiluma, Joshua Ailaomai tries; Jamal Fogarty 3 goals) def SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS 22 (Matthew Soper-Lawler 2, Lachlan Roe, Ryan Papenhuysen tries; Kurt Aldridge 3 goals) at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Intrust Super Cup Round 1 Highlights: Falcons v Bears