The Newtown Jets will play in their second consecutive Grand Final after surviving a late St George Illawarra Dragons rally in their finals match at Netstrata Jubilee Oval earlier today.
The Jets dominated all but the final 10 minutes of the contest, two late tries from their opponents causing their faithful fans a few anxious moments, however they held on, with the 22-20 win setting up a Canterbury Cup deciding clash with Wentworthville next Sunday.
Finishing seventh at the end of the regular season, the Jets have now won three sudden-death finals, including today’s game against the minor premiers, to qualify for the ‘big dance’ next weekend.
Waiting for the Jets are the Wentworthville Magpies, who won their Grand Final qualifier against Souths in coming from eighth place at the end of the 25-round season.
The win was all the more meritorious considering the Jets lost five eighth and captain Jack Williams, as well as experienced outside back Aaron Gray in the days leading up to the game.
The match began with Jets winger Tyrone Phillips was denied at one end after almost being able to ground a Billy Magoulias grubber kick, then soon after the Dragons looked to have opened their account, only to be called back for an obstruction in the lead up and the teams remained scoreless following the early exchanges.
It wouldn't take the Jets too much longer to score their first points, Ronaldo Mulitalo showing commitment and strength to crash over from short range after running onto a Blayke Brailey pass.
Braydon Trindall converted and the Jets were up 6-0.
The Dragons responded, showing some of the class which saw then finish on top of the Canterbury Cup table, five eighth Adam Clune throwing a long cut out for Tristan Sailor to score in the north-western corner.
Sailor was on target with the kick and the scores were level 15 minutes into the contest.
In a high quality clash the teams had their chances to add to their tally’s but it would be the Jets to take the next opportunity, Sione Katoa winning the race to a Will Kennedy kick, then in displaying great skill and strength managed to get the ball down wide out.
On this occasion the Trindall kick was wide but the Newtown side had their noses in front 10-6 after 25 minutes.
Just when it appeared the scores would stay the same going to half time, a well-worked short side move saw Kennedy pass to Mulitalo, who put Katoa into space, with the winger again exhibiting outstanding finishing ability in crossing wide out.
Trindall learned his lesson, converting from the same spot and the Jets would go to the break up by 16-6.
The Jets managed to start the second half the same way they finished the first, Siosifa Talakai running the perfect line onto a Matt Evans pass, with the stocky back rower travelling 25 metres, past the fullback and into the in-goal for his teams fourth try.
Trindall kicked the simple conversion and it was all going the way of the Jets at 22-6 in front.
The Dragons gave themselves hope with a second Sailor try in the 50th minute of the match, which went unconverted, then for the following period of the game the Jets couldn't put their opponents away, however by the same token the Dragons struggled to mount enough pressure to bridge the gap any further.
With time ticking it appeared the Newtown side would grind out a win, the Dragons had other ideas as possession and field position tipped in their favour.
First it was Patrick Kaufusi getting across the line, although the missed kick at goal saw the Nets remain eight points in front, until a second four-pointer, this time from centre Steven Marsters with under five minutes left on the clock, setting up a grand stand finish.
To their credit the Jets remained composed and closed the match out, the Dragons letting themselves down with a couple of late errors as they pushed the pass trying to score the match winner, with Newtown earning the chance to atone for their loss in the 2018 competition decider.
They will assess the fitness of the likes of Williams and Gray before deciding on a team, with the Jets hoping for a better result than from 12 months prior when beaten on Grand Final day by the Bulldogs.
Sione Katoa 2, Siosifa Talakai, Ronaldo Mulitalo tries, Braydon Trindall 3 goals