Redcliffe Dolphins are the 2018 Intrust Super Cup Grand Final winners after beating the Easts Tigers in a very entertaining match at Suncorp Stadium.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon for rugby league, and very few in the slightly disappointing crowd of 7,504 could have too much of a gripe about rugby league on offer, as both teams produced a contest worthy of the final game of the season.
The big question heading into the game was whether the Tigers red-hot finals form and momentum would carry them to a long overdue premiership, or whether Redcliffe’s comparatively easy ride of one game in three weeks would be the key.
In the end that was answered in the affirmative to the Dolphins, but not without a big effort from the Tigers, and a little drama that you’d expect from the biggest day of the season.
The main drama revolved around a key injury to Easts’ five eighth Billy Walters, and a late refereeing decision which cost the Tigers and game a grandstand finish.
That’s not to take anything away from the Redcliffe Dolphins, who withstood early Easts dominance to take control of the game, and took their opportunities when they arose throughout the game.
Easts looked the better of the two sides with early attacking raids testing Redcliffe’s resolve, but the first points went to their way via a penalty goal, after a great charge up the middle from Dolphins second rower Toby Rudolf ended in a penalty due to the Tigers holding on too long.
The Tigers weren’t behind for long, pardon the pun, as a shambles of a kick off return ended in a drop out and a try to Easts winger who dove for the corner inadvertently showing his bottom to a large chunk of the Western Stand. It was delivered via a fine cut-out ball from Scott Drinkwater who had looked sharp up to that point. A fine sideline conversion saw the score 6-2.
Proving there was always plenty happening, Redcliffe’s next try came a few minutes later after a charge down, a repeat set, a Dolphin knock on almost on the try line, Tigers Tommy Butterfield scooping the ball up and running 50 metres only to drop it, and another quality charge from Rudolf before Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller took advantage of a fine offload to cross a few plays later.
Easts secret weapon on Sunday afternoon was their kick offs, which Redcliffe had trouble with again, and it almost led to another Tigers try, but it didn’t happen for Scott Drinkwater so close to the line. At this stage Sam Kasiano came on for the Tigers, and despite the pedigree and big name stature he had very little positive influence on the game.
In fact errors and penalties from the big man led to Redcliffe ball, territory, and a repeat set that led to their next try to Jeremy Hawkins courtesy of a pin point cross field kick from Cameron Cullen. A sideline conversion made it 12-6 with just over ten first half minutes left.
Redcliffe were getting on top at this stage, and pushed further ahead in the 33rd minute with a penalty goal.
It was around this time that the Tigers lost Billy Walters through injury, a tragic event after the five eighth had only come back from injury in the previous week’s knockout win over Burleigh.
But a piece of good fortune was just around the corner as a fine intercept from Kelma Tuilagi led to a try a few plays later to Marion Seve who produced a now standard rugby league winger’s Superman dive to slam the ball down mid air. 14-10 at half time, with swinging momentum, it was anyone’s game.
Anyone’s became Redcliffe’s very quickly after the break with two quick tries, and both from what appeared as a lack of urgency in two key moments. The first is when Trai Fuller scored his second try, just moments before his 20 metre charge his fellow number one Scott Drinkwater claimed him high. Easts’ defenders appeared to be waiting for the whistle, and that small hesitation cost them dearly as the Redcliffe fullback breezed through to score.
The second try in the 46th minute was also due to Redcliffe just wanting it more. A grubber which appeared to be heading for a seven tackle set for the Tigers was sensationally retrieved mid air and a good metre past the dead ball line by Aaron Whitchurch despite two hovering Tigers, who had Kotoni Staggs waiting patiently for the ball to score and send Redcliffe out to a 26-10 lead.
Easts skipper Jake Foster crashed over ten minutes later to reduce the gap to 26-16, which was the culmination of a run of repeat sets of pressure from the Tigers.
Momentum swung over the next ten minutes as Nathan Watts pounced on a perfectly curling grubber from Bryce Donovan, who had sucked in the Tigers down the blind side on the last tackle. Followed by Easts scoring again three minutes later through Scott Drinkwater after some excellent lead up work and offload from Marion Seve. With just over ten minutes to go it was 32-22, and anything could happen.
Things were starting to go Easts way until the 75th minute when a great inside out play saw Linc Port through a gap and destined for four points, but the referee surprisingly ruled it out due to interference on a Dolphins defender. It was a questionable call, which robbed the Tigers of a certain try, and the crowd a grandstand finish.
In the end the Tigers tried hard but the moment was lost, and to rub additional salt into the Tigers’ wounds Tom Opacic scored just before full time, after a cheeky dummy from a penalty tap saw a cheeky run down the blind side by Cameron Cullen who found the ex Bronco centre. Big man Sam Anderson failed with the late conversion attempt.
Bustling second rower Toby Rudolf was named man of the match.
For Redcliffe it was a first Premiership since 2006, and three previous failed attempts in Grand Finals. They will now play on next weekend on NRL Grand Final Day, trying to uphold Queensland;’s honour against the Bulldogs in the State Championship.
Sadly Easts’ long wait for another premiership title since 1991 continues.
2018 Intrust Super Cup Grand Final Result
REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS 36
Tries: Trai FULLER (17m) Jeremy HAWKINS (26m) Trai FULLER (42m) Kotoni STAGGS (46m) Nathan WATTS (62m) Tom OPACIC (79m)
Goals: Kotoni STAGGS 4/6 Conv, 2 Pens
EASTS TIGERS 22
Tries: Conor CAREY (12m) Marion SEVE (37m) Jake FOSTER (56m) Scott DRINKWATER (65m)
Goals: Brayden TORPY 3/4 Conv