ISP Match Report: Mounties fight off Tigers to book grand final spot
Sam Williams led a fighting Mounties outfit to the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final, with a 24-18 victory over the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval.
The Tigers led 18-6 at half-time, but Mounties remained patient, calm and composed, and never panicked in their inspirational second half fight-back.
The conditions were horrid for the majority of the match, and while ball-control was never perfect, both sides adjusted to the weather to put one of the games of 2016.
The rain was heavily pouring down, but that worked in the Wests Tigers favour in the opening two minutes of the game, when Watson Heleta charged forward after a classy left-to-right shift and was brought down short, but the wet surface allowed him to slide onto the white chalk for a try.
The precipitation was not as friendly for the Wests Tigers in the next five minutes, but they were able to defend an error off the kick-off, and an error on tackle one on their next chance.
Conditions did not help the ball handling of either side, and try-scoring opportunities were therefore limited.
A ruck penalty gave the Wests Tigers an extra two-points, and then a pinpoint 40/20 in tough conditions by Jack Littlejohn gave them valuable field position.
Jeremy Marshall-King’s determination earned the Tigers a four-pointer when he picked the ball up from dummy half, stood in the tackle, but muscled his way over the line to extend their lead to 12.
The nightmares of Mounties shock 2015 Preliminary Final exit were starting to re-appear, and only the Intrust Super Premiership NSW player of the year could get them out of trouble.
Sam Williams put in a perfect chip to an unmarked Eddie Aiono to score a try, and then fought the adversity of wind and rain to slot the extra two-points from the sideline.
The brilliance of Marshall-King halted Mounties’ comeback, however, as alike his opening try of the afternoon, he bolted over from dummy half to score a short-range try, and the Wests Tigers took an 18-6 lead into half-time.
Mounties needed to score first if they were to give themselves a chance, and that’s exactly what they did when Aiono popped a ball backwards after a right-to-left shift, and Zac Santo picked the ball up and athletically planted the ball down in the corner.
William’s certainly packed his kicking boots, as he slotted yet another conversion from the sideline to reduce the deficit to six points.
Mounties dominated the possession and field-position for the next period of the match, but struggled to capitalise on any opportunity thanks to a mix of poor handling due to the weather, and great Wests Tigers defence.
They came extremely close with 12 minutes to go, but an amazing try-saving tackle by Charlie Taylor on Eddie Aiono denied Mounties a potential equalizer.
After seemingly never-ending defence, the Wests Tigers finally cracked thanks to a beautiful short-ball from Williams to a rampaging Jarrad Kennedy, who ran a perfect line as he is renowned for to stroll over.
Williams’s perfect day with the boot continued, which locked up the scores at 18-all with seven and a half minutes remaining.
A Tigers error gave Mounties perfect field goal position in the final five minutes, and all eyes were on Sam Williams who was perfectly situated to slot the one.
No eyes, however, were on Adam Clysdale, who sold a brilliant dummy to Williams, fooled the marker and dived over from dummy-half to take the lead.
A short kick-off paid off for the Tigers, who were given one last chance to equal the scores.
Littlejohn put in a perfect grubber for Michael Chee Kam, who steamed through and attempted to plant the ball down, but the referee ruled he had no control over the ball.
Mounties then held on for a dramatic victory, and are the first team to qualify for the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final.
This article first appeared on NSWRL.com.au