Treymain Spry in action against Souths Logan last Sunday. PHOTO: Max Ellis.
The Ben Campbell Building Group Tweed Heads Seagulls are playing for a rare piece of history when they take on Northern Pride on Saturday in the final round of Intrust Super Cup and Hastings Deering Colts matches at Piggabeen Sports Complex.
A fourth straight victory by the ISC side will cement sixth spot on the ladder and a home semi-final against the in-form defending premiers Redcliffe Dolphins the following weekend, the first time the Seagulls have played in the finals since 2014.
The Colts under-20s side, coached by Matt King who was in that 2014 finals line-up and the club’s only Queensland Cup premiership-winning team of 2007, also have a date with destiny in their hands.
The Seagulls and Pride are locked on 24 competition points with Tweed holding eighth place on points differential. The winner will take the final place in the finals, although a draw would also get the Seagulls home.
With Tweed’s under-18s Mal Meninga Cup side winning the competition from fourth place on the ladder then going on to win the national championships against NSW’s Illawarra, the Colts on Saturday could give the club the achievement of having all three grades in the finals in the same season for the first time.
This shows the significant improvement of the Seagulls this season, which is a tribute to the board of directors, the administration under CEO and former NRL player Paul Stephenson and the coaching staff headed by former Gold Coast Titans under-20s coach Ben Woolf.
The Seagulls also fielded a woman’s team for the first time, coached by former Kiwis women’s coach Kelvin Wright, and fielded its first Queensland State of Origin player in Jessika Elliston.
A key to Woolf’s team’s success in recent weeks has been the gradual return to form, and confidence, of Titans halfback gun Ash Taylor who will take his place as chief playmaker against Northern Pride on Saturday.
Taylor has struck a solid combination in the spine with fullback Lindon McGrady, hooker Christian Hazard and fellow halves Luke Jurd and Brent Woolf who interchanged in the position in last Sunday’s big win against Souths Logan and have been selected to do the same this Saturday.
Taylor has created eight try assists and nine line-break assists in his five appearances since returning from his spell out of the game, plus scored a try and is kicking for an average of 316 metres per game, which has seen a big improvement in the Seagulls’ ability to gain good field position.
McGrady, in his third season with the club, played 13 of the first 17 games this season in his regular position in the halves, but has settled in at fullback since Taylor’s entry into the line-up and they have formed a dynamic combination.
McGrady has scored 162 points this season from four tries and 64 goals, to be fourth on the ISC points-scoring list.
His switch has enabled the versatile Talor Walters, the former Melbourne Storm under-20s player, to move to the wing despite his tremendous form at the back. However, his classy finishing ability and penetrating running from the back has been a revelation and he has scored eight tries in the past five games, including successive hat-tricks against Easts and Souths.
“We know we’ll play Redcliffe in the (sixth v seventh) semi-final but it would be a big advantage to play them at home so we know what is at stake on Saturday,” Ben Woolf said.
“We’ve gathered a lot of confidence in the last month and have been playing with more consistency and controlling the ball better, so we want to go into the finals with momentum by beating the Pride.
“A lot of that has come from how well our spine is combining together but also our forwards, led by captain John Palavi, have really muscled up and given the halves something to play off.”
With second-rower Will Matthews chosen in the Titans side to play Newcastle Knights on Saturday and prop Leilani Latu injured, Taylor may be the only Titans’ NRL-experienced player in Saturday’s line-up.
Northern Pride are 12th on the ladder but have plenty of strike-power in Cowboys players Gideon Gela-Mosby, Javid Bowen, Enari Tuala and former NRL and Super League veteran Maurice Blair.
The day is a ‘family fun day’ with a bouncing castle and free face painting for children. Game times: Hastings Deering Colts 2.20pm, Intrust Super Cup 4pm.