It was a tight tussle that surely pleased the home fans as the Sunshine Coast Falcons beat Wynnum Manly Seagulls 26-24 in balmy conditions at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
The Falcons prevailed, despite scoring four tries to the Seagulls' five in see-sawing affair that saw the two sides trade the lead many times during a scrappy Round 1 clash.
Match: Falcons v Seagulls
Round 1 -
Venue: Sunshine Coast Stadium
Coach Eric Smith said he was extremely proud of the fight his young side showed in remaining in the match against a quality opposition.
“I thought we started really well... we played hard and fast," Smith said.
"I think the aggression we displayed in that first 20 minutes really caught the Seagulls by surprise.
“I think that first 20 was really where we played our best footy... it was a scrappy game, as the first few rounds usually are, but I was really proud of the fight our boys showed to stay in the game.”
For the first time since season 2014, the Falcons ran out with a side full of Sunshine Coast-based players including three Intrust Super Cup debutants in Riley Moore, eventual Man of the Match Tyson Smoothy and Tom Rafter.
Prop Martin Cordwell started well for the Falcons, breaking tackles and making life tough for the opposition defenders.
At the end of the first set, Falcons halfback Todd Murphy made his intentions clear and put the Seagulls backs on notice with some swirling high bombs aimed directly into the sun.
Some poor discipline saw the Seagulls on the wrong end of a 3-0 penalty count by the seventh minute, with the home side making the most of their chances as fullback Nat McGavin crossed just one minute later; Murphy successfully slotted the conversion, putting the Falcons in front 6-0 after nine minutes.
Another penalty followed in the 14th minute, following a break from Dane Hogan who pounced on a loose ball before being held down in the ruck whilst trying to get back to his feet.
The Falcons elected to take the two points and put themselves further in front at 8-0 a quarter of the way through the match.
An injury to Caleb Daunt saw the young five-eight leave the field for a HIA and he unfortunately was unable to return to the game; this brought Sam Burns into the match to take over Daunt’s role in the halves and put added pressure on halfback Murphy.
Smith said he felt both players handled the reshuffle well.
“Sam Burns was on our interchange bench... we had planned that he would be swapping with Smoothy into the dummy half role but the injury to Caleb forced him into the game really early," Smith said.
“I think Sam and Todd dealt really well with the extra pressure and adjusted well to the unfamiliar halves pairing.
“It also meant Smoothy played a full 80 minutes and I felt he was really great out there; he seemed to just get better and better as the game went on.”
Following the injury to Daunt, the visitors enjoyed a glut of possession.
Some good line speed and time with the ball saw a shift in momentum that led to three unanswered tries for the Seagulls, including a double to winger Edward Burns.
Missed conversions meant the Seagulls were leading 12-8 after 28 minutes.
Minutes later some strong defence from the kick-off caught the visitors unawares in goal and returned possession to the home side just metres out from the Seagulls' goal line.
The Falcons made the most of their opportunity with a classy inside ball from Murphy putting hard working lock forward Daniel Dole over for a well-earned try.
Murphy was successful with the conversion putting the Falcons back in front 14-12 with just minutes left in the first half.
A break from fleet footed Seagulls fullback Edene Gebbie led to try right on the stroke of half time to Fedrick Hoeter; Fetalaiga Pauga slotted the kick and the visitors lead 18-14 at the break.
A huge clash five minutes into the second half between rival back rowers Chris Lewis and Alex Barr demonstrated the serious level of intensity from both teams early in the second half.
Both players reeled from the heavy contact; they were stunned but uninjured.
The Falcons were first to score in the second half following a quality ball from Murphy that turned Lachlan Roe back on the inside, and the big man took five defenders all the way to line, levelling the scores at 18-18 in the 47th minute.
Murphy once again coverted, putting the Falcons back in the lead 20-18.
Despite the committed start, the Falcons were not able to really put their opposition to the sword and the two teams continued to trade both errors and tries throughout the second half.
“We didn’t keep our foot on their throats,” Smith said.
“Some of the players switched off at times and we weren’t really able to maintain that constant level of pressure throughout the game.”
The Seagulls put themselves back in the lead at the 62nd minute with Sam Scarlett finding space out wide and Pauga successfully converting after the ball bounced off the post.
Both teams felt the effects of heavy legs in the final ten minutes of the match, but the Falcons found themselves in a quality attacking position after receiving a penalty late in the count with just six minutes to go.
A clever kick from the Falcons resulted in a fumble in goal from the Seagulls that saw Sam Burns dive on the ball to level the scores up once more.
Murphy slotted a pressure kick to put the home side back in front 26-24 with just over three minutes left to play.
It was a tense final few minutes for the home crowd, but the Falcons held on for a two-point win in what was a successful start to their 2019 season.
Falcons face Redcliffe Dolphins in Round 2; the two teams will battle for the James Ackerman Cup.
Match: Dolphins v Falcons
Round 2 -
Venue: Dolphin Stadium
* Photo of Falcons gun Jake Ainsworth from 2018.