An 80th minute field goal by Redcliffe five-eighth Tyson Gamble has kept the Dolphins’ hopes of defending their title alive but broken the hearts of a brave Tweed Heads Seagulls in a dramatic elimination final at Piggabeen Sports Complex on Sunday.
The Devils came back from an 18-6 half-time deficit to win 25-24 and take their winning run to 10 victories from their last 11 games.
Gamble looked to have won the match two minutes earlier when he landed his drop kick from 35 metres only for the pocket referee to tip that Seagulls hooker Christian Hazard was obstructed by Redcliffe lock Jamil Hopoate when he tried to pressure the kick from dummy half. The two points were disallowed and the Dolphins’ elation was halted.
The Seagulls methodically tried to set up their own field goal attempt and it came on the last tackle via fullback Lindon McGrady from 40 metres.
But Hopoate went from villain to hero in what proved the play of the match when he charged down McGrady’s kick and was able to regather with 45 seconds left on the clock.
Redcliffe effectively rucked the ball towards the middle of the field and five-eighth Gamble, who had earlier landed a pressure kick from the right touchline but just failed to land a second which would have broken the 24-all deadlock in the 70th minute, coolly snatched the victory with 15 seconds remaining – even though his kick was deflected by Seagulls prop John Palavi.
“It was heartbreaking, I was so close to getting more of a touch on it,” said skipper Palavi who was again outstanding for the Seagulls.
“I thought we had some crucial calls go against us in the second half but also we just didn’t come up with some crucial plays when we needed to. But I’m so proud of our effort.”
Many thought the Seagulls, although the finished on place ahead of the rampaging Dolphins, would be fodder for the in-form defending premiers.
And that looked like it might have been the case when Redcliffe crossed for the first try of the match in the eighth minute of the back of a repeat set from a line-drop out. They ran the ball to the right edge on the last and second-rower Aaron Whitechurch crossed from 10 metres. Gamble converted for 6-0.
Yet the Seagulls matched the bigger aggressive Dolphins in the grind for the next 15 minutes and gained the ascendancy to score three tries in 10 minutes and turn the match around.
They came up trumps from their first attacking set on the Dolphins line in the half. After good charges by Hazard and Palavi, Ash Taylor gave Ioane Seiuli a small gap with a good pass close to the line and Seiuli shook off two tackles to score.
Lindon McGrady’s conversion levelled the scores at 6-all with 16 minutes of the first half remaining and the Dolphins started to look vulnerable, making errors in possession.
Tweed took advantage and Seiuli was in for his second when he charged through the line from a Hazard pass. McGrady’s conversion gave Tweed a 12-6 lead.
The Seagulls were in again when winger Talor Walters scored on the right touchline. McGrady offloaded to Taylor in a driving tackle on the last play who threw an overhead lofted pass to Walters who was unmarked 15 metres out. Taylor showed his confidence was up by converting from the right touchline to make it 18-6.
Redcliffe regained momentum seven minutes into the second half. Off the back of a relieving penalty in their own half, they rolled upfield and a good Crossfield kick by Gamble and Talor Walters failed to clean it up and Justice Utatao pounced on the loose ball. Gamble converted for 18-12.
Redcliffe had a 5-1 run of penalties and the Seagulls looked like they could not get a 50-50 call, not awarded penalties for high or lifting tackles yet conceding a couple for a debatable strip and high tackle. After two penalties in quick succession, from a strip on the last tackle and then Taylor being penalised for offside after intercepting and running away from his own tryline, Gamble took two points from the penalty goal to reduce their deficit to 14-18 with 28 minutes remaining.
Tweed scored next through right centre Lee Turner when he dummied and stepped left and was in for the Seagulls’ fourth try, and McGrady’s conversion made it 24-14.
A double to Redcliffe winger Jedidiah Simbiken set up the dramatic finish – but not before a crucial penalty against Tweed that was one of several major turning points in the final 20 minutes.
Both of Simbiken’s tries came from Gamble electing to run the ball to the right and the Seagulls not being able to get off their line aggressively enough and kill the ball. Gamble converted the first to make it 24-20 but his second went to the right of the posts in the 68th minute and the scored were locked at 24-all.
Tweed lost forward Seiuli with a shoulder injury at that moment which was a crucial replacement. He was just about the home side’s best.
In between the tries came a crucial call. Simbiken fumbled backwards a long clearing kick by Taylor and was nabbed just into the field of play. On the next tackle Palavi was penalised for a high shot when the Seagulls will argue strongly was not warranted. From the ensuing set of tackles, Simbiken crossed to tie the scores.
“I thought we were on the wrong end of a few 50-50 calls in the second half but we also didn’t finish off some sets when we needed to,” said Seagulls coach Ben Woolf.
“It was disappointing but I could not have been prouder of how we stuck it to a team that has been in red hot form; our forwards were outstanding.
“A lot of people thought Redcliffe would come here and run away with it. We took them right to the wire – and we proved we belong here in the finals.”
Redcliffe Dolphins 25 ( J Simbiken 2, A Whitechurch, J Ulatao tries; T Gamble 4 goals, field goal) def. Tweed Heads Seagulls 24 (I Seiuli 2, Walters, Turner tries; McGrady 3, A Taylor goals) at Piggabeen Sports Complex.