THE Group Three Rugby League grand final will be an all-Hastings affair.
This follows the minor semi-final where Port Macquarie outclassed Wingham 32-12 after leading 16-6 at halftime to advance to next Sunday’s final. They’ll play the loser of the Port City/Wauchope major semi.
The Sharks were way too good for Wingham. Too big, too fast, too well-drilled. However, they may have some injury problems before next week’s game. Halfback Joe Cudmore was assisted from the field early in the second half after the Sharks scored. Two melees erupted and when referee Cory Richardson finally restored order Wingham second rower Joel Kliendienst was sent off and Port forwards Matt Shipway and Kurt Maloney were all sin binned. Richardson then awarded the try to big interchange forward Mitch Smith and the conversion by smart five-eighth Corey Murphy saw the Sharks lead 22-6 with just on half an hour remaining. Cudmore didn’t look too flash as he was carried off, however, he seemed to be in reasonable shape at fulltime.
There was a bit more drama to follow. Wingham winger Michael Bailey looked try-bound when he made a long run down the touchline but he was stopped in a superb covering tackle by Sharks fullback Mitch Wilbow. However, Richardson sent Wilbow to the bin for a second effort on Bailey, reducing Port to 10 players with Wingham on the attack. The Tigers wasted a set playing sideline to sideline trying to work an overlap that didn’t eventuate. They couldn’t post a point while the Sharks were short staffed.
Port then lost electrifying centre Willy Baker, who limped off with what appeared to be an ankle problem.
Wingham did give their supporters some hope when Trent Green delayed a pass for Matt Bridge to score a converted try with 21 in the clock. But then Port’s Green, the winger Jake, sprinted 50 metres down the touchline in s smart individual effort. A try to another impressive Shark, David Geary, sealed the result.
One passage of play summed up Wingham’s day. The Tigers scored in the first half when hard working lock Brendan Butler slipped a tackle and Bailey slotted the conversion, locking the scores at 6-6. However, Wingham lost the ball from the re-start and in the next set Cudmore was over for Port.
The Sharks’ big men, led by Shipway, troubled Wingham throughout and they also looked sharp when they gave the ball of bit of flight. Tigers’ captain-coach Danny Russell had no excuses at fulltime.
“They were too good,’’ he said.
The Tigers struggled to get into the game, possibly as a result of the exhausting extra time loss to Wauchope the previous week. Hooker Mitch Collins tried hard and was their best.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Tigers as their reserve grade scored an impressive 26-12 win over Wauchope to move to the preliminary final.
Port Macquarie 32 (M Smith 2, J Kelly, J Cudmore, J Green, D Geary tries, C Murphy 4 goals) defeated Wingham 12 (B Butler, M Bridge tries, M Bailey 2 goals).