Mounties centre and goal-kicker Jack Miller turned hero by scoring a try three minutes from full-time against the Kaiviti Silktails to put his team into the Ron Massey Cup finals.
He was unable to convert his own four-pointer in the 77th minute, but it didn’t matter in the end.
The 26-all draw – with no extra time played in Ron Massey Cup – meant Mounties moved to 19 competition points and retained fifth spot on the ladder, and the Silktails on 17 in sixth spot.
The Silktails needed the win to draw level on 18 points because because they had a superior for-and-against. Only the top five club progress to the semi-finals.
The Fijian side led 20-10 at halftime, scoring four tries to two in the opening 40 minutes.
But at fulltime it was five tries each with both sides missing two goals.
“It was a very gritty and a very hard game,” said Mounties coach Paul Bent, father of Harvey Norman NSW Sky Blues forward Shaylee Bent.
“We knew that if we stuck to what we can do best – and that is control the football – we’d be in the game. And that’s what happened in the end.
“The Silktails are a strong and talented side, so we just needed to keep the ball in our hands to come away with the win.”
Silktails coach Wes Naiqama rued some of the missed chances in the first-half to extend the lead further.
“At halftime I said we needed to be better with our last-play options, kick to the corners, and make them come out of their own half more often,” Naiqama said.
“But we didn’t respect the opposition and didn’t respect the ball. That’s why we had to defend our line for the majority of the second half.
“All that scrambling on our own try-line and we gassed ourselves out.”
The Silktails were welcomed to the field by a guard of honour of former Fiji Bati players celebrating ‘Old Boys’ day at Mascot Oval.
The Stilktails got the scoreboard ticking over early, when three-try hero from last week against Ryde-Eastwood, second rower Paula Walisoliso, made a dashing 40-metre run to cross in the southwest corner after just six minutes.
Mounties pulled one back through hooker Freddy Pupu before the Silktails scored again, when five-eighth Rusiate Baleitamavua backed up forward Meli Nasau on another barging run through the middle.
The match turned into a real arm wrestle before Baleitamavua grabbed his second, with Nasau being rewarded for all his support work when he grabbed a try of his own right on half-time.
Mounties kept themselves in the hunt when lock Justin Filo scored in the 37th minute.
To be fair the halftime gap could have vanished as two Mounties players – Stuart Mason and Matthew French – were held up over the line.
The Silktails scored early in the second half, when Walisoliso got his double in the 42nd minute.
But from then on it was all Mounties.
Valance Harris and Mitchell Butfield scored before Miller’s virtual match-winner in the corner as the Mounties camped themselves in the Silktails half.
Naiqama spoke of pride in his players, who lost their Football Manager Jacqui Shannon to a brain aneurism in June, and had several players suffer season-ending injuries including club captain Apakuki Tavodi.
“To just fall short like that this year, after all the adversity and injuries the club’s been through, it’s very disappointing,” Naiqama.
“But I can’t commend the players enough and we need to celebrate the fact that we got into this position – one win away from the finals. We improved as a club greatly this season.
“So this will hurt but we’ll keep this core group together and be back better and wiser.”
The Silktails’ participation in the NSWRL’s Ron Massey Cup is proudly supported by the Australian Government through PacificAus Sports.
The NSWRL receives funding from the Australian Government through PacificAus Sports to support the Silktails’ participation in the NSWRL’s Ron Massey Cup.