The Mounties almost pulled off a huge comeback from 22-8 down, but it wasn't enough as they fell to the Newcastle Knights by 30-26 in a nail biting Preliminary final at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Some nice plays from halves Josh McCrone and Mitch Cornish looked to have given Mounties the chance to come over the top of Newcastle, but mistakes and ill-discipline earlier in the match ultimately cost the Mounties the victory.
Knights Jaelen Feeney was a celebrated addition for the Knights, scoring a breath-taking hat trick of tries in a man-of-the-match performance after missing last week’s game due to illness.
Feeney was instrumental for Newcastle, paving the way for an emphatic victory as the Knights continue their mission to avenge last year’s heartbreaking Grand Final defeat.
After such a promising year, Mounties were let down in the goal-kicking department, with their five missed conversions proving to be the difference between a Grand Final position and the end of their season.
McCrone had an outstanding second half, and was a huge reason that Mounties were able to claw back in the second half and almost snatch victory.
The Knights failed to find touch from a penalty early on, but quickly recovered from the unforgivable error when Feeney found space and put on the accelerator to evade Jack Ahearn and score adjacent to the posts.
Mounties looked to respond immediately afterwards, but a misdirected right-hand set play led to an 85-metre Honeti Tuha intercept try, which increased the Knights lead to 10-0.
Two of Mounties Mitch’s helped open Mounties account at the 20-minute mark, as Cornish threw a perfect bullet-pass to put Cronin through a hole to decrease the deficit to 10-4.
Feeney’s running game hurt Mounties for the second time in the match, as he burst through a hole, spun through a defender and forced the ball down to secure his second try in just 25 minutes.
Mounties had opportunities but failed to capitalise on various chances, with a repeat set opportunity blown thanks to a combination flimsy defence and Jake Mamo magic, followed by Stewart Mills failing to ground the ball before being pushed into touch moments afterwards.
Mills made amends for his previous error with four minutes remaining in the half, after Cornish put him into space and he powered over Mamo to skillfully plant the ball down in the left corner.
Feeney was the source of a crucial blow for Mounties on the stroke of halftime, after George Ndaira picked up a loose ball and darted away against the run of play, before he offloaded for the lingering halfback to run away and complete a first half hat-trick.
That try meant the Knights held a 22-8 lead at halftime.
Mounties opened the second half scoring when McCrone put in a perfect grubber under pressure, and Jeremy Hawkins won the race to plant the ball down just inside the dead ball line.
McCrone incredibly chopped Kerrod Holland down just short of the line, but momentum caused him to drop off the tackle, which allowed Holland to have a second effort and plant the ball down – much to the surprise of various Mounties’ players.
Mounties hit back in the 64th minute after a perfect bullet-pass by McCrone allowed Brenko Lee to squeeze through a gap to decrease the deficit to 26-18.
McCrone continued his outstanding second half just three minutes later, as he ran across field while Mounties were on the attack, straightened and put in a little grubber for Cornish to score adjacent to the posts. Despite the ball placement, the conversion was rushed by Cornish and consequently missed.
The momentum was with Mounties, until Holland scored an intercept try from inside his own half with six minutes remaining to run away to a 2015 VB NSW Grand Final appearance for the Knights.
A Mills try in the corner after a beautiful cut-out pass from Cornish created a tense final two minutes for the Knights, but they held off to book their spot in the Central Coast showdown next week against the Wyong Roos.
Newcastle Knights 30 (J Feeney 3, K Holland 2, H Tuha tries; G Ndaira 3 goals) bt Mounties 26(S Mills 2, M Cronin, J Hawkins, B Lee, M Cornish tries; M Cornish goal) at Leichhardt Oval