Newcastle defeat Canberra at Country Championships
Canberra have bowed out of the 2014 Country Championships after a thrilling 34-28 semi-final loss to Newcastle at Wyong on Saturday.
The side headed into this year's championships confident of winning their first title since 1999 and looked well on track to do so after racing out to a 16-0 first half lead.
Canberra's right edge combination of former NRL centre David Howell and Dwayne Connors were absolutely devastating in attack with the Gungahlin Bulls duo registering two tries apiece.
Unfortunately, Canberra were their own worst enemy on the day with several unforced errors inviting the Novocastrians back into match.
On a slippery, wet track, Canberra ultimately failed to adapt to the conditions and Newcastle went onto capitalise on Canberra's sloppy handling and execution by compiling 34 points in the second stanza.
Coach Jack Giddings, who was at the helm when Canberra last won in 1999, said that his side shot themselves in the foot with some simple mistakes which were more often than not were inside their own half of the field.
"Our right side shredded them all game, but what brought us undone was a couple of early errors in the tackle count coming out of our red zone," Giddings said.
"There were showers when we got to the ground and it was a pretty slippery surface and Newcastle was pretty tough and worked hard in the middle, and basically capitalised on our errors."
Despite the loss there were plenty of positives to come out of the match for Canberra.
Aside from the scything attacking form of Howell and Connors, young halfback Carl Johnson was impressive behind a hard working and formidable forward pack led by second rowers Josh Ayres and Richard Kelly.
Canberra's fortunes suffered an early blow when five-eighth Chris Thorley left the field early with a knee injury and back-rower Aidan Woods followed soon after with another knee injury. Thorley's injury isn't serious, but Woods is expected to be assessed.
Newcastle wiill now take on reigning champions Illawarra in the final after they beat Central Coast 22-6 in the other semi-final.
The Country Championships final will be held at Tamworth's Scully Park on Saturday, June 21.
NEWCASTLE 34 (Royce Geoffrey 2, Brendan Worth, Jake Finn, Jermaine Ale, Riley Brown tries; Joel Brown 5 goals) defeated CANBERRA 28 (David Howell 2, Dwayne Connors 2, Michael Brophy tries; Dwayne Connors 4 goals)