Newtown Jets are through to the Canterbury Cup NSW Grand Final but not before suffering an almighty fright in their 22-20 Preliminary Final win against St George Illawarra Dragons at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium today.
The Jets looked well on track to make it back-to-back deciders after surging to a 22-6 lead early in the second half but had to hang on for dear life after the Dragons scored three unanswered tries late in the game to set up a frantic final five minutes.
It was an entertaining match and a fitting Grand Final qualifier with almost 3000 supporters – predominantly Jets fans – turning up to the ground to catch all the action.
“It’s a nice feeling (to make the Grand Final),” Jets captain Scott Sorensen told nswrl.com.au
“We know we’ve got a real nice group of boys here and everyone really enjoys each other’s company as well and really enjoy playing with each other so it’s pretty special.
“As you can hear out here all the support we’ve got out here is special and we’re very grateful for all the support of the Newtown faithful, the boys really enjoy it.”
Newtown's next obstacle will be Wentworthville Magpies - who beat South Sydney Rabbitohs and are chasing their own fairy tale finish after finishing the season in eighth position – when they turn out for the Canterbury Cup NSW Grand Final at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday September 29.
The Jets, who finished the season in seventh spot to set up a unique decider between the bottom two teams, came into the Preliminary Final brimming with confidence after scoring a convincing win over Mounties in Week One and rallying to come from behind against North Sydney Bears in Week Two.
They started the match in strong fashion too after hooker Blayke Brailey picked up Ronaldo Mulitalo close to the line and the Jets centre proved too strong for the Dragons defence as barged his way over before firmly planting the ball down.
The Dragons scored through Tristan Sailor – who was returning from a NRL stint and was one of the Red V’s best – but any joy was short-lived after fullback Jai Field came up with a bad error taking a kick dead before it had officially gone over the line.
The mistake proved costly with Jets fullback Williams Kennedy holding a ball up before putting through a deft kick for winger Sione Katoa to pounce on the ball and score.
The Jets ensured they would go into the halftime break with their tails up after Kennedy again showed his class with quick hands to help put Katoa over for his second.
The Dragons were down 16-6 and any hopes they had of conjuring a second half fightback looked all but over when centre Matt Evans drifted across field and picked up Siosifa Talakai who charged through a gap before dragging defenders over the line with him.
“The last fortnight we’ve missed the jump from the kick-off and had to chase our result so today we wanted to start fast and know that we can start fast,” Sorensen said.
“The result is a little bit closer than what we’d like but we got the job done.
“The big thing for us was getting back into the grind of things so in the first half we just grinded it out and got a few points.
“That’s all we needed to do in the second half but they scored a few tries, (we just had to) kick down to the corners and ‘D’ up and let the result take care of itself.”
Cue the Dragons fightback. Sailor got the ball rolling with a spectacular acrobatic try in the corner in which he leapt over the defence before somehow managing to plant the ball down with one hand.
Tries followed to Patrick Kaufusi and Steven Marsters to reduce the margin to 22-20 and set up a thrilling finish but it was a case of too little too late once again for the Dragons with time eventually beating them.
It was a similar fate to last year after they charged home against Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in a Preliminary Final only to run out of time too. They will be left to rue another season that got away after finishing as Minor Premier but falling short for the Grand Final by one game again.
They earned a week off after beating last year’s winners the Bulldogs in Week One, and welcomed back even more NRL players in Sailor, Jackson Ford, Reece Robson, Jonus Pearson and Jordan Pereira, but struggled to match the Jets intensity in the first half.