by Matt Buxton
A tough, brutal, finals-like contest took place at Henson Park, when the Newtown Jets downed the North Sydney Bears with an incredible buzzer-beating try by Jacob Gagan, to steal the game 16-12.
Josh Cleeland was easily the most dangerous player on the park, but all 34 players on the field must be credited for never backing down in what was such a high-intensity encounter, which is sure to be one of the games of 2016.
The Jets now slide into the top four with one round remaining, while the Bears will sweat on other results to see if they remain in the top eight before their much-anticipated do-or-die clash with the Canterbury Bulldogs next weekend.
The win also means that the Frank Hyde Shield will remain in Newtown for the next year.
It took both kickers a few minutes to shake the cobwebs, as the Bears’ first kick went out on the full, and Cleeland’s attacking grubber was far too big and rolled dead without any Jets player getting close.
The Jets had consecutive sets attacking the Bears line, mainly due to North Sydney not completing their sets at the start of the match, however they beautifully defended their errors and withstood the Jets’ attack.
North Sydney had their first real chance to attack by getting a penalty in front of the posts, and they decided to take the gift two-points to take a 2-0 lead despite the Jets dominating in field position and possession.
All of the previous defending paid off for the Bears at the 20 minute mark, as Eli Levido created an overlap with a ball to Sitiveni Moceidreke, who broke free of the Jets’ grasp while on the attack before offloading to Tautalatasi Tasi to cross the try-line.
Levido missed the goal that meant the Bears had a 6-0 lead, but off the kick-off set, the try-scorer was hit awkwardly in a tackle, badly injuring his knee and had to be assisted from the field.
The Bears gave away continuous penalties until the referee had enough, and on the eleventh penalty of the afternoon in just the 26th minute, Patrice Siolo was sent to the sin bin and the Jets were playing with an extra man.
It seemed the Bears were going to get away with having 12 men on the field without conceding a point, but a fractured Bears defence allowed Josh Cleeland to step through and score in the ninth minute of Siolo’s spell on the sideline.
The kick was missed which meant the Bears led 6-4 at halftime.
The Bears started the second half defensively perfect, and they were rewarded for this effort 10 minutes into the second half when Dane Nielsen made a 50-metre dash down the left sideline. They swung the ball right on the next tackle, and Abbas Miski finished off the try in the corner to extend their lead to 10-4.
Newtown hit back on the hour mark when Josh Cleeland put a grubber down the short side, and Nielsen spilled the ball while back-tracking to retrieve it, and it bounced into the arms of Jacob Gagan who locked up the scores after Fa’amanu Brown perfectly converted.
The next 10 minutes were incredibly tense, but the second penalty of the half was blown in prime field possession for the Jets, who slotted a penalty goal to take a 12-10 lead in the 70thminute.
Jack Siejka collided into the hip Junior Roqica shortly afterwards, and after a long delay, had to be assisted off the field.
The Bears eventually marched up-field, and alike the Jets just moments before, they were gifted a penalty in range, and Levido slotted the two-points to lock up the scores with six minutes remaining.
Levido beautifully struck a 40-metre field-goal attempt which missed to the left, but on the seven-tackle set, the Jets dropped the ball inside their half, giving the Bears a chance in the dying minutes.
Levido had a second-shot, but some last-ditch pressure from Matt McIlwrick meant the crafty halfback sprayed it to the right.
Off the seven-tackle set, the Jets marched all the way up-field and a mix-up blew the field goal chance. However, in the dying second, Cleeland shifted the ball right to Arana Taumata, who put a perfect grubber in for Gagan, who somehow was the first man to the ball and planted the ball down for the match-winning try.