THE Muswellbrook Heelers’ surge towards premiership glory continued in the Newcastle-Hunter Rugby Union divisional competition at the weekend, courtesy of an emphatic 37-14 victory over defending champions Easts 1.
The club’s 23-point preliminary final triumph now sets up a showdown with The Waratahs in the 2018 decider.
“It was our mid-field combination that proved to be the difference all day in attack,” coach Michael Hall said.
“The forwards were able to provide a stable platform with good ball retention, but it was the two centres who delivered the punch over the advantage line.
“We’re now in the grand final for the second year in a row.
“But, after last season’s loss, the boys are determined to go one better.
“However, it is going to be tough.
“The Waratahs have been the benchmark all season and have beaten the Heelers in both previous matches.
“At the end of the day, to win a premiership you must beat the best.
“And, the two best sides are in the grand final this weekend.”
Muswellbrook opened the scoring early in Saturday’s clash.
The strong breeze pushed Easts’ kick-off dead in goal and the Heelers scored from the scrum restart, with inside centre Morgan Collins provided a nice short pass to a hard-running Beau Haywood who sliced through the rivals’ midfield far too easily.
Mitchell Googe was next to touch down from a sneaky quick tap.
The Heelers were attacking deep in the Easts’ half when the referee penalised the latter.
Googe, already in possession, raced to the mark, took the tap and threw a huge dummy and stepped back inside to score adjacent to the post.
Easts started to claw its way back into the game.
A mistake from the kick-off had the Heelers on the back foot.
Easts kept the ball tight with a solid pick and drive game that allowed them to retain possession and inch their way up the field.
They soon scored out wide after drawing too many Heelers to the breakdown.
Easts evened the score through a penalty try and Doug Raphael was given a yellow card in the process.
Down to 14 men didn’t deter the Heelers and they soon snapped out of their lull.
Once again, they put points on their opposition.
Haywood dived over to close out the half with the score at 21-14 to Muswellbrook.
The second period saw the Heelers dominate their rivals with their defence being the key, keeping them scoreless.
The boys in green would go on to score two more tries with Collins and Jason Knox crossing the line.
Fullback Dylan Smith landed a game total of three conversions and two penalties, taking the final score to 37-14.
Coach’s points are hard to pick in the finals, but this week went to Googe (one), Haywood, Jaryd Buckley (two), Smith and Collins (three each).
Players’ player went to a deserving Collins.
Saturday’s grand final kicks off at 9.30am at Newcastle’s No.2 Sportsground.
“We’d love as many supporters there as possible,” Hall admitted.