By Matt Crowhurst
Scenes of jubilation erupted around Suzuki Stadium Langlands Park on Sunday afternoon when Tom Butterfield scored a 76th minute try to secure what for much of the match had seemed like an unlikely win, 20-16, over the Townsville Blackhawks.
Tigers captain Jake Foster described it as the win they needed, “We will learn a lot from that, we can build from that and take it forward.” He said, “We just believed and believed and stuck to it.”
The Tigers, perhaps overawed by a home semi-final, were a little over enthusiastic in the first half. They had plenty of good ball in good positions, however a desire to score off every play led to errors and an uncharacteristically low completion rate.
The Blackhawks, by contrast were the epitome of a disciplined professional side. Their defence was outstanding as they shut down anything the Tigers threw at them. They opened the scoring in the 3rd minute when a delightful Michael Parker-Walshe kick bounced up perfectly for a trailing Paul Byrnes. Kyle Laybutt converted and the Blackhawks led 6-0
The Townsville forwards were rolling forward, dominating the Tigers pack and were creating a perfect platform for the creative Parker-Walshe, who sat back and revelled in the time and space. He was at it again in the 19th minute when another deft kick led to a Blackhawks try. Jonathon Rueben flying high over the Tigers defence to pull in the ball and give his team the 10-0 lead.
With the halftime hooter ringing in their ears the Tigers over enthusiasm cost them dearly. A poor pass went behind Linc Port, Blake Leary scooped it up and fed Rueben who scorched 80 metres to score in the scoreboard corner. Laybutt converted and the Blackhawks lead 16-0 at the break.
The Tigers seemed to have calmed down after the break and the passes began to stick as they got back to playing the football that has typified their season. They scored in the 46th minute when a lovely backline play saw Jarrod McInally score in the corner. Both Billy Walters and Brodie Croft were prominent in the lead up, taking the ball and straightening the attack before passing.
The next try was almost a carbon copy, it started further down field however the result was the same though, McInally steaming into space down the left side. A cutting Laybutt tackle ensured he would not score, however Billy Walters was smart enough to take the ball from dummy half and squeeze down the very narrow short side to score and bring the Tigers to 16-8 down.
Jack Svendsen scored in the 72nd minute with a hit and spin that took him over the line and Billy Walters slotted the conversion to narrow the Blackhawks lead to 16-14 with 7 minutes to play.
This thrilling match was far from over though, Paul Byrnes broke into space just 20m form the Tigers line and had the chance to free Reuben for a potential match winner, however a scything tackle from Young Tonumaipea made sure that would not happen.
And then it was Tommy Butterfield. The Kumul test player scoring the match winner in the 76th minute after superb lead up work from Walters and McInally.
The Tigers best on the day was Linc Port, who gave a masterclass in fullback play, along with Tommy Butterfield, who always stands up when required. For the Blackhawks retiring Stalwarts Anthony Mitchell and Michael Parker-Walshe can hold their heads high, they were at the forefront of everything their team did and they gave team every chance to win.
The Intrust Super Cup Semi-finals roll on next week with the Tigers hosting the Falcons and the Hunters hosting the Dolphins.
EASTS TIGERS 20
Tries: Jarrod McInally (47m), Billy Walters (62m), Jack Svendsen (72m), Tommy Butterfield (76m)
Goals: Billy Walters 2/4 Conv
TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 16
Tries: Paul Byrnes (3m), Jonathon Reuben (19m), Jonathon Reuben (39m)
Goals: Kyle Laybutt 2/3 Conv
Half Time: Townsville Blackhawks 16 Easts Tigers 0