A SHOWDOWN with minor premiers Southern Lakes awaits Muswellbrook after the Heelers eliminated Cooks Hill 1 from the Newcastle Hunter Rugby Union premiership race at the weekend.
Although the score ended in a 24-all draw, the local President’s Cup outfit progressed due to a higher position on the competition ladder.
The Heelers now return to the No 2 Sportsground on Saturday for a shot at Easts 1 in the 2017 decider.
“We knew Cooks Hill 1 would come out firing after an easy 44-5 win in the previous week’s qualifying final,” Muswellbrook president Greg Buckley said.
“Plus, they’re also last year’s champions.
“But, we were ready for them.
“The boys came off a tough and bruising [qualifying final] loss by one point to Easts.
“They were aware of the situation – and that there are no second chances.
“Cooks Hill 1 is a young and fast outfit who plays an expansive style of rugby.
“They try and run opposition teams around to tire them.
“We had a huge advantage in the forwards.
“However, we also knew that Cooks Hill 1 would attempt to keep the ball away from heavy contact and use the pace they had out wide.
“An ankle injury to fullback Patrick Scott-Young in the first half saw a reshuffle in the backline – and it did upset momentum for a short time.”
The encounter was a nail-biter, with the score in Cooks Hill 1’s favour 24-17 with only three minutes remaining.
Muswellbrook had field position and was camped on its rival’s defensive line out wide.
After some controlled work by the forward pack, Ethan Cridland crashed over in the corner for his third try of the match to make it 24-22.
Mitchell Googe landed a pressure kick from the sideline to tie it all up at 24-all.
“It was a great conversion,” Buckley said.
“Cool and calm, Mitchell slotted the ball straight between the uprights.
“Extra-time is not played.
“And, with a final score of 24-all – and due to Muswellbrook finishing higher on the ladder after the home and away series – we now go through to the preliminary final against Southern Lakes.
“Easts have secured one berth and we must beat Southern Lakes to progress to the decider.
“The mood in the dressing room after the game was subdued.
“Any celebrations were kept low key, knowing that this draw was way too close for comfort.
“Unfortunately, injuries have taken their toll in the past two weeks.
“The team needs to manage a number of [war] wounds to key players and get our boys back in to training for this weekend.”
Cridland’s three tries secured him the Players’ Player award.
Coach’s points went to: Jeb Hardy (three), Chris Jeffree and Josia Besetimoala (two), Harry Hobden and Cridland (one)