EVEN the most ardent of Old Bar supporters had doubts about the team's chances going into the Group Three Rugby League preliminary final against Forster-Tuncurry.
Injury had all but decimated the side and they were coming off a humiliating 52-6 loss to Wauchope the previous week in the major semi-final. However, the Pirates overcame all this adversity to upset the Hawks 25-18 and so qualify for the grand final next Sunday against Wauchope at Wauchope. This will be Old Bar's first appearance in a grand final since 2000.
It was a brilliant victory and a great game of footy. The Pirates had everything going against them with star players Daniel Harris and Steve Sansom out injured while interchange forward Michael Spence was unavailable. Front rower Kyle Cochrane was sin binned early in the first half then sent off by referee Zac Schembri midway through the first stanza. But the Pirates dug deep. Inspired by halfback Nathan Berry and second rower Josh Pearsall, Old Bar kept coming. Forster jumped to a 12-0 lead early but Old Bar fought back to be on level terms at halftime at 12-12. The second half belonged to the home team. Spurred on by a big crowd, the Pirates lifted and dominated. The Hawks had their discipline problems, losing at various times fullback Kyle McGregor, second rower Chris Simon and winger Wayne Paulson to the sin bin, although Simon and Paulson were sent with time just about up.
The Pirates started finding chinks in the defence. Hooker Mick Henry, centre Kyle Mundine and second rower Tye Blanchette all kept probing and the Hawks started to falter. In the end Old Bar were deserved winners.
Pre-game everything pointed to a Forster victory and that's the way it started, with halfback Josh McCartney putting centre Brayden Wynter over for an early try. McCartney's goal made it 6-0. The Hawks were dominating field position and converted this to points when McGregor raced through a hole to cross for the side's second. McCartney's conversion made it 12-0 and it was looking ominous for the Pirates.
But from a scrum win Berry ran wide and turned the ball back to centre Michael Mercy who was in an enormous gap and raced over to break the duck. Aiden Avery added the goal. Schembri sent Cochrane off soon after for dissent and then awarded Old Bar a penalty after Henry had been decked. Despite being down a player the Pirates plugged on and Mundine made his way across just before the break. Avery's goal levelled the scores at halftime.
The Hawks had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half with Simon - probably their best - taking a close pass and crashing over to give Forster the lead. McCartney's goal made it 18-12.
But the Pirates weren't going to be denied. Henry darted through a hole to score and Avery's goal made it 18 apiece. McGregor was given 10 in the bin and from the ensuing penalty Avery steered over the goal and the Pirates had the lead for the first time. They didn't really look like relinquishing the advantage.
Blanchette crashed over towards fulltime and although the conversion missed, Old Bar held a match winning lead at 24-18. Fittingly Berry, who had a great game, slotted over a field goal, sending the Old Bar crowd into delirium and the Pirates into the grand final.
The Pirates now face the unbeaten Wauchope and could possibly have some of their troops back on deck. If the Pirates can reproduce the form they showed in the final, it will be a great match.