Ben Campbell Building Group Tweed Heads Seagulls coach Ben Woolf is hoping several key players will return to strengthen his side for Sunday’s elimination semi-final against Redcliffe Dolphins at Piggabeen Sports Complex (11.40am kick-off).
It is the Seagulls’ first finals appearance since 2014 and Woolf hopes to welcome back at least three players who missed the final competition round, a 12-10 victory over Northern Pride.
While skipper Cheyne Whitelaw (ACL) and utility forward Jack Cook (broken leg suffered in a work accident) will not play against until next year, second-rower Kalani Going (hamstring), halfback Ash Taylor (ankle) and winger Rowland Jacobs (foot) are expected to be fit to return.
Winger Talor Walters (knee) left the field last Sunday after 20 minutes and he will be given until later in the week to prove he has recovered.
“It’s an exciting for club to have a home semi after five years out of the finals so we’ll give the injured players every chance to play,” said coach Ben Woolf.
“It’s going to be a tough game with Redcliffe one of the form teams of the second half of the season after a slow start.
“We’ll have to be at our best and be patient with the ball and really strong in defence to beat them but this is the sort of challenge we have been preparing for all season.
“Hopefully we can get a good vocal crowd there too so we can make the best of the home ground advantage.”
Taylor is the key man for the Seagulls. The 24-year-old Titans halfback who has played 80 NRL games has gradually become more dominant with his playmaking as he spends more time with his Seagulls teammates and has been responsible for eight try assists and eight line-break assists in his five games in black and white, which resulted in four victories.
Although the Seagulls finished one place ahead of the defending premiers, they are under no illusion of how tough the seventh-placed Dolphins will be.
Redcliffe have won nine of their last 10 matches, including five straight and have scored 40 points or more in their past four games against Easts Tigers (43-0), Central Queensland Capras (58-4), PNG Hunters (46-0) and Mackay Cutters (48-10).
Much of their improved form centred around the return of goalkicking five-eighth Tyson Gamble mid-season from Wests Tigers where he made his NRL debut in 2018 and was chosen in the NSW Residents side.
Rugby union convert Izaia Perese, who debuted for the Brisbane Broncos last month and has scored nine tries in his past six appearances for the Dolphins, is another danger man.
Yet the Seagulls also go into the semi-final in good form. The only match they dropped in the final six rounds was a 36-16 shock loss to Mackay Cutters after leading 12-0 after 30 minutes.
The switch of Lindon McGrady from five-eighth to fullback and Walters from fullback to the wing has worked well. Walters has scored 13 tries and McGrady stands third in the Intrust Super Cup points-scoring list with 166 points (five tries and 73 goals).
The teams have met once this season with Redcliffe winning 26-6 at Dolphin Stadium.
The Seagulls, who have all three senior grades qualify for the finals for the first time (the under-18s Mal Meninga Cup won their competition), will field their Hastings Deering under-20s Colts team in an elimination semi-final at Piggabeen on Sunday as well. They play Mackay Cutters at 1.40pm.