There can be fewer tougher ways to start your Intrust Super Cup campaign than on a thirty-plus degree afternoon at Tapout Energy Stadium, and it proved a bridge too far for the Northern Pride on Sunday as they went down 20-12 to Easts Tigers.
The opening 15 minutes were typical early-season football, with the two teams feeling each other out and getting their respective new combinations working. For the Tigers, Mahe Fonua was heavily involved early, and he looks to have added plenty of muscle over the off-season, which he used to good effect, repeatedly coming in from the centres to go looking for ball. He had some powerful charges early which set the tone for his game. For the Pride, big Ben Spina was the stand out in the opening exchanges and he was rewarded for his effort, with the first try of the match, crashing over with 13 minutes to go in the first half. Jordan Biondi-Odo converted and the Pride had a 6-0 lead.
The game turned with 10 minutes to go in the first half, when inspirational Tigers skipper Dane Hogan was helped from the field with what appeared to be a rib injury. His team responded courageously with Fonua powering over two minutes later, to take the score to 6-4 to the Pride.
The Tigers finished the half in attack, with their forwards starting to dominate the Pride pack. Young Storm contracted props Christian Welch and Francis Taulau, is his first game for the Tigers, both stood up against the highly regarded Pride pack.
With 3 minutes remaining in the first half Shaun Nona showed a glimpse of his much vaunted play making skills, laying on a perfectly timed pass for Shane Neumann to score. Nona converted and the Tigers took a 10-6 lead into the break.
The Tigers started the second half as they had finished the first, attacking. With only five minutes gone Cameron Munster reminded everyone how dangerous a ball runner he is, with a lovely break down the left edge, showing, as he always does, maturity beyond his years he resisted the urge to take it too far and positioned Donald Malone on his outside. It was no easy passage for Malone though, as he had swarming defenders and the sideline to contend with, but showed all of his experience to protect the ball and place it down safely, stretching the Tigers lead to 14-6.
Fifteen minutes into the half Cameron Munster was to the fore again, as he collected a lovely pass from Joel Romelo and glided 30m down field before being confronted by his opposite Lachlan Coote. With no passing option available this time, Munster produced a centring kick towards the unguarded Pride posts. Hooker Tommy Butterfield, supporting up the middle of the field as all good hookers should, was first to the ball but was confronted by a most unenviable situation – a bouncing ball, goal post pads and when to apply downward pressure on the ball? Butterfield waited, everyone in the stadium held their breath, he touched the ball down, the referee pointed to the spot and Tigers supporters breathed again. Nona landed his second conversion and the Tigers were out to a 20-4 lead.
For much of the remainder of the second half the game was a little flat, as the heat and some early season, to borrow an expression from the boxing world ‘ring rust’, took a toll on both sides. There were plenty of errors and plenty of penalties; discipline will be a concern to both coaches as they both had players spend time in the bin.
The Pride had the final say in the game as Patrick Kaufusi, who appeared to have suffered a match ending leg injury in the first half, come back to score, which Jordan Biondi-Odo converted to take the game to its final score line of 20-12.
For the Tigers the positives to come out of the game were the two points, the performances of Liam McDonald off the bench and young props Welch and Taulau. In his first game for the club Shaun Nona showed that his long kicking game will be a real asset. Much like Cody Walker last year, Nona is a player who somehow finds time and space to produce things where other players just would not have the time or space.
For the Pride Lachlan Coote and Cameron King made successful and safe returns from injury, while new boys Graham Clark and Vaipuna Tia Kilifi made solid starts to their Pride careers.
The Pride will be looking forward to their first home game of the season next Saturday night against the Sunshine Coast Falcons, while the Tigers will make the familiar trek to BMD Kougari Oval for the local derby against Wynnum Manly.