The 1963 Great Escape starred Steve McQueen, James Garner and Charles Bronson, the 2016 version starred Matt Zgrajewski, Dane Hogan and Shane Neumann as the Easts Tigers snatched a dramatic 26-22 win over the Mackay Cutters on Sunday.
Desperate for their first win of the season the Cutters forwards, led by Captain Brenden Treston, Brad Lupi and Braden Uele were simply too strong for the Tigers in the first half and continually rolled down field. The Tigers made things worse for themselves by repeatedly failing to finish their sets, either through errors or penalties. By half time the Tigers were on the wrong side of a 5-2 penalty count and had made nearly thirty more tackles.
With so much position and possession and with their forwards dominating, Cutters halves Howard Brown and Delayne Ashby stole the show, with Ashby’s kicking game particularly impressive. Centre Johnny Faletagoa’i has the priceless combination of being a big man with speed, strength and delicate footwork and he put all of these attributes to work in a magnificent run in the lead up to Tyson Martin’s try.
Tries to Liam Taylor (In the 4th and 29th minutes), Matthew Wright (in the 8th minute) and late inclusion Tyson Martin in, the 24th minute, along with Liam Taylor slotting all of the conversions saw them take a commanding 22-8 halftime lead.
The Tigers salvaged something from the first half with two tries to debutant Leon Ellia-Niukore. His second try, in the 35th minute, came after great lead up work from Jake Foster. Mat Pitman dropped the ball out the back of a tackle, Brentt Warr scooped it up and quickly passed it to a flying Jake Foster. Foster took the ball to within 5 metres of the line before passing to his winger to score in the corner.
At the start of the season Tigers Coach Scott Sipple named Matt Zgrajweski, Dane Hogan, Shane Neumann and Jake Foster as his leadership group and it was these four who stood up in the second half and led the Tigers comeback. Neumann started it in the 48th minute when he scored off a pass from Javarn White. Brentt Warr converted and the score was 22-14.
The Tigers scored in the 63rd minute with Neumann again the finisher. Hard running John Puna broke the Cutters defence wide open and with a very nice step surged into space. He fed Jake Foster who was running down the left edge and dragged the Cutters defence with him toward the sideline. Foster then passed back on the inside to Neumann who, running a perfect angle, flew like an arrow straight to the posts. Brentt Warr converted and suddenly the Tigers had worked their way back to 22-20.
The next fifteen minutes were desperate times as both teams threw everything they had at the opposition looking for the winning touch. Both teams had opportunities to close the game, Cutters halfbacl Delayne Ashby appeared to have scored to secure the two points for his team before the video referee ruled that a Tigers defender had been impeded in the lead up to the try.
Starting potentially their last set of the game, and with the result still very much in the balance, the Tigers forwards mounted one last surge down field. Billy Walters then took the ball from dummy half and dashed another 10m before Javarn White stepped up. White also took the ball from dummy half and, showing his speed, strength and experience, broke the Cutters hearts as he forced his way over to score and quite literally stole the win from them.
The Tigers will be very pleased to return from a tough road trip with the two points and will be looking forward to their Good Friday clash with the Norths Devils at Suzuki Stadium. While the still winless Cutters must take some comfort from their first half performance and will look to build on that when they face the daunting prospect of travelling to Burleigh to confront the Bears.
Easts Tigers 26 (Shane Neumann 2, Leon Ellia-Niukore 2, Javern White tries; Brentt Warr 2, Billy Walters goals) def Mackay Cutters 22 (Liam Taylor 2, Matthew Wright, Tyson Martin tries; Liam Taylor 3 goals).
Mackay Cutters; 1. Liam Taylor 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Johnny Faletagoa’I 4. Matthew Wright 5. Jack Creith 6. Howard Brown 7. Delayne Ashby 8. Brad Lupi 9. Joshua Chudleigh 10. Braden Uele 11. Brenden Treston 12. Patrick Mago 18. Tyson Martin 13 Steve Rapira 15. Joss Boyton 16. Andrew Davey 17. Alexander Farrell.
Easts Tigers; 1. Javarn White 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Shane Neumann 4. Michael Kai 5. Leon Ellia-Niukore 6. Daniel Foster 7. Brentt Warr 15. Ash Little 9. Billy Walters 10. Matthew Zgrajewski 11. Jake Foster 12. Dane Hogan 14. Francis Tualau 8. John Puna 13. Mathew Pitman 16. Luke Lavelle 17. Chris Ostwald.