Devils aim to achieve perfect season
Norths Devils will be looking to complete a perfect season when they take on their long-time rivals Souths Logan in the Mal Meninga Cup state final at Bishop Park on Saturday, May 5.
Norths have conquered all before them in 2018 and are the only side to be undefeated this year.
All of their wins, including their 30-16 result over their grand final opponents in Round 3, were built upon the cornerstone of strong defence and precise execution in attack.
However, their semi-final victory over a never-say-die Cutters side last weekend left a lot to be desired for the premiership favourites who appeared to switch off and let their northern opponents back into the game.
It was very much a tale of two halves for the Devils, with their first half display showcasing the perfect blueprint on how to play semi-finals football.
With a near-perfect completion rate and the ability to defend their try-line for extended periods, Norths managed to gain the early ascendency and translated their dominance into a 32-6 halftime lead.
But the break appeared to halt their momentum and Mackay were able to thrive on the Devil's uncharacteristic ill-discipline and poor ball control as a string of penalties saw the Cutters produce three tries in eight minutes to trail 32-24 with 20 minutes remaining.
The game was destined for a grandstand finish with Mackay full of running against a tiring Devils outfit, but a number of clutch defensive efforts – including holding their opponents up twice when over the try-line – proved instrumental in stopping the Cutters charge; allowing Norths to hang on for victory.
Despite their second half fade, Norths coach Troy Bishop was full of praise for his side and highlighted their resolute defence as the most pleasing part of his side's performance last weekend.
"It was just our willingness to work for each other because we were under a lot of pressure there, but we showed a lot of resilience to keep Mackay out and that's what probably broke their back in the end," he said.
In praising their ability to withstand pressure and close the game out, Bishop also addressed his side's second half performance as a slight concern.
However, he was quick to allay any fears of it being a common theme in their game; instead highlighting the class of Mackay as a key factor in their fightback.
"Halftime was probably the worst thing for us and I think we probably put the cue in the rack, he said.
"But in saying that, they took their opportunities and threw some really good things at us that we were unable to handle."
Ahead of their blockbuster showdown with the Magpies, the Devils will be looking to a number of their key players to lead from the front as the state's best young talent faces off.
When asked about the key contributors to his side's success this season, Bishop heaped praise upon his entire squad, but highlighted a number of consistent performers who have been instrumental in the Devils dominance throughout the Mal Meninga Cup season to date.
"Halves Cory Paix and Josh James get us around the park really well while our hooker Heath Le Blanc is just getting better each week and he really keeps us levelled headed in the middle of the field."
But the best praise was reserved for Broncos contracted duo Jordan Riki and Ethan Bullemor, who have been nothing short of outstanding throughout the season with their trademark strong runs providing the perfect platform players like Paix to work their magic.
"Jordan Riki and Ethan Bullemor have been dominant through the middle and their ability to just roll through the middle and find a quick play the ball allows our outside men do what they need to do," Bishop said.
In terms of combating a dangerous Magpies side who are not only capable of scoring from anywhere on the park, but are also well-credentialed to go toe-to-toe with the big Devils pack, Bishop was firm on his side's focus.
"I think if we can go set-for-set with them, then we can be very competitive," he said.
"But if we give away silly penalties and turn the ball over, it's going to be very hard for us because once you give Souths ball, they just roll through and play on the back of their enthusiasm and momentum."
As for the final message for his team before kick-off, Bishop said he would keep it short and sweet.
"Enjoy the occasion, discipline and ball control, and don't leave anything out there," he said.
>> QRL.com.au will livestream the Mal Meninga Cup state final.