Burleigh Bears return from a two-week hiatus to challenge Currumbin Eagles for a place in the Rugby League Gold Coast QTOP A Grade grand final this Sunday.
The runaway minor premiers have had an extended break thanks to a Round 21 bye followed by another week off in the first week of the finals.
While it is not an ideal time to be taking a break, the Bears have excelled at every hurdle this season and with a record of 16 wins, one loss and one draw they will deservedly start as favourites on Sunday, but it does leave them somewhat vulnerable.
Matt Foster, who coached the Bears to A Grade premiership success in 2015, had nothing but respect for his opposition that includes some seasoned campaigners.
“They have Dan Mortimer and Pele Peletelese – who are experienced in finals football which gives them a massive advantage,” he said.
“They will be an imposing opposition. They have strong physical forward and they have a lot of momentum having been playing week-on-week.”
Currumbin Eagles, who finished the season in third and outlasted Southport to win their way through to this grand final qualifier, have steadily built in recent weeks.
Aside from a hiccup in the last round of the regular season, the Eagles have picked up tough wins over finals rivals Tugun, Runaway Bay and Southport in three of their last four games and now seem primed to challenge the competition favourites at the best possible time.
Eagles coach Ryan Gundry, a former Bears great at Intrust Super Cup level, said he was pleased with his team’s recent performance but has little doubt that Burleigh will be ready to play despite being starved of football in recent weeks.
“The level of professionalism that they have at Burleigh will ensure they are well prepared,” Gundry said.
“They lost one game throughout the year; they are the benchmark for the competition. We need to compete in every aspect of the game, if we do that, we will be in with a shot.”
Sunday’s winner will advance directly to the grand final, while the loser will host a preliminary final against either Southport of Tugun next week.
The Tigers will host Tugun Seahawks on Saturday in an elimination final.
Southport have been a standout team all season, wrapping up a top two finish weeks in advance, but have hit a rut at the worst possible time by dropping their last four games.
They were right in the fight for the majority of last week’s clash with Currumbin, only for some disciplinary lapses to cost them momentum which were seized upon by the Eagles.
“This is our last role of the dice,” Tigers coach Steve Dowd said. “We need to take our opportunities, get our discipline in order and then we will be hard to beat.”
They’ll need a return to their best to defeat a Tugun side who will be buoyed from a dramatic 26-24 elimination victory over defending champions Runaway Bay.
The Seahawks have plenty of big-game experience and as they proved again last week, know how to find a win when circumstances appear dire.
Despite Southport’s run of losses - which includes a 32-0 loss at the hands of the Seahawks in Round 20 – Tugun coach Clint Barends expects Southport to produce their best when the chips are down.
“I feel Southport have been a bit unlucky they haven’t had a full-strength side,” he said. “They have their captain back (Tu Whakatihi-Paikea) and they should start to spring back into a bit of form. I don’t think we are favourites – it’s even keel”
Both games will be live streamed via the Rugby League Gold Coast Facebook page.
* Main image courtesy of Paul Goodman Sports Photography
Rugby League Gold Coast finals week 2 team lists
Southport Tigers v Tugun Seahawks – Saturday September 7 at Owen Park, 3pm
1. Jack Conlan 2. Corey Walker 3. Campbell Pirihi 4. Naz Monsall 5. Tevita Folau 6. Zoram Watene 7. Drumayne Dayberg-Muir 8. Luke Polson 9. Jacob Pottinger 10. Lachlan Douglas 11. Tu Whakatihi-Paikea 12. Simi Ata 13. Jaleel Seve Derbas 14. Barry Ruttley 15. Dallas Donnelly 16. Ronin Rio 17. Carlo Alimboyong
Coach: Stephen Dowd
1. Corey Morris 2. Troy Canning 3. Kurt Mcdonald 4. Tim Cassidy 5. Sami Latu 6. Jacob Grant 7. Sam Meskell 8. Josh Harvey 9. Will Johnstone 10. Levi Norton 11. Rob Apanui 12. Nick Harrold 13. Ethan Roberts 14. Jordan Aiono-Fatu 15. Macauley Dawson 16. Blake Zillman 17. Ryan Martin
Coach: Clint Barends
Grand final qualifying final
Burleigh Bears v Currumbin Eagles – Sunday September 8 at Pizzey Park, 2pm
1. Connor Toia 2. Tyronne Roberts-Davis 3. Regan Ogle-Muir 4. Josh Berkers 5. Te McDonald 6. Dylan Kelly 7. Matt Egan 8. Oliver Percy 9. Jordan Scott 10. Tyler Sparkes 11. Darius Farmer 12. TBA 13. Reece Summer 14. Brett Stratton 15. TBA 16. Tyler Szepanonski 17. Lochlyn Sheldon
Coach: Matt Foster
1. Bayley Gill 2. Bayley Desmond 3. Jake Gleeson 4. Blake Morrison 5. Kurt Perry 6. Dan Mortimer 7. Phil Ramage 8. Pele Peletelese 9. Josh Campbell 10. Jarrod Gill 11. Mike Gray 12. Kurtis Dark 13. Harry Wecker 14. Liam Donnelly 15. Harrison Burling 16. Liam Thompson 17. Ben Willetts
Coach: Ryan Gundry