Despite a few anxious moments towards the finish, the Matthews Cup Sharks have held on to claim a 26-20 win over the Townsville Stingers in the under-16’s National Championship match.
The young Sharks were dominant for close to 50 minutes of the match, building up a 26-0 advantage, before a Townsville comeback fell just short as the Cronulla side hung on to secure a memorable victory.
With the Sharks well on top a bizarre moment tipped the momentum in their opponents favour, when a Stingers kickoff bounced fortuitously off the cross bar of the goal posts and after a scramble for the ball into the hands of a Townsville player who touched down adjacent to the posts.
From there it was all Townsville however the Sharks had done more than enough in the first 50 minutes of the contest to score a well-deserved victory.
For coach Glenn Brailey and his team the win capped off a magnificent season, one which culminated in them winning the Matthews Cup title before getting the better of the Stingers in the National final.
Neither side was able to trouble the scorers for the first 10 minutes of the match but it would be the Sharks to strike first, a bulldozing charge from prop Monty Raper seeing the Bosco junior crash over next to the posts.
The kick at goal was dragged left and waved away but the Sharks had the early lead at 4-0.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks to add to their lead and it came from the same combination that terrorized the Eels in the Ball final a week earlier.
A passing move down the right found Jaemon Salmon, who put centre Bronso Xerri away, before Luke Metcalf backing up on the inside would dash away to score.
Metcalf converted his own try and the Sharks led 10-0.
The two teams then became locked into something of an arm wrestle and it appeared only 10-point would separate them at the break, but they didn’t count on a strong Fine Kula try on the stroke of half time, with the Sharks going up 16-0.
Coming out with their confidence high the Sharks were first on the board again in the second period, Julian Spanos crossing wide out after a skillful exchange of passes and at 20-0 the Cronulla boys were riding high.
Metcalf then scored a second with around 14 minutes remaining off a clever inside ball from Salmon and it seemed as if it was game over at 26-0 Sharks.
But to their credit the Townsville boys didn’t give up.
The first try may have been a lucky one after the goal post rebound but from there they chanced their arm, threw the ball around and worked their way back into the match.
The final try to the Stingers came with under two minutes left on the clock and while the coach may have been nervous watching on, the young Sharks held their nerve and defended the final period of the match to register the win.
The win to the Sharks was all the more meritorious considering their main attacking strike weapon Semisi Kioa missed the game after injuring his ankle in the SG Ball Grand Final against the Eels.
Again the Sharks had a number of strong performers on the day, the skill and toughness of Salmon on the edge proved a handful for the Stingers, while Raper in the middle had perhaps his best game of the 2015 Matthews Cup season.
Fullback Dylan Smith and skipper Lachlan Smith showed why they have been chosen in the NSW 16’s Pathways team and hooker Tamati McCausland did a power of defensive work in the middle of the field.
Under 16’s National Championship Final
Luke Metcalf 2, Monty Raper, Fine Kula, Julian Spanos tries, Metcalf 3 goals
TOWNSVILLE STINGERS 20