LOOKING out for the count at 18-0 down after 20 minutes, the Rockingham Sharks showed why it is the 2017 NRLWA minor premiers, scoring six unanswered tries to secure a grand final berth with a stunning 30-18 victory over the Joondalup Giants on Saturday.
Slow out of the blocks, the Sharks had to endure a Joondalup tidal wave as the big Giants’ pack pushed holes in the Rockingham defence.
A score on seven minutes and another four minutes later gave the Giants a commanding lead as the Sharks tried to grab possession.
Without the football they were forced to defend several sets as the Giants pushed forward.
A penalty enabled the Giants to quickly move the ball wide and winger Connor Hudson was beaten in the corner.
Hudson would make up for it later in the game, but the Giants threw everything they had at the Sharks in search of a commanding lead.
When they added another to go 18-0 up on 22 minutes many were wondering if the Sharks had blown it.
Wily halfback Anthony Bowman showed why he has played at pro level in Britain, when he broke between two defenders from 15m out to put the Sharks on the board on 27 minutes.
The Giants, already beginning to show fatigue, looked lost as the Sharks moved through the gears.
They could have scored again before the break but were content with the 18-6 score line as coach Darren Shaw calmed them down, told them to keep to their game plan and to step it up in the second half.
“We always had belief in ourselves,” Shaw said.
“We knew the Giants would come at us in that first half hour and throw everything they could at us to break us down, but the longer the game went on, we knew we would recover.”
Recover they did.
Two minutes after the restart Hayden Toby-Dangen crossed in the corner after being put through by Geordie Connelly.
More pressure kept the Giants pinned in their own half from the kickoff as the Sharks marched back up the field for teenage halfback Tyler Hunt to weave his way through a congested Joondalup defence for another try.
He kicked the extras and it was game on.
The Sharks sensed their opponents were tiring and stepped up their game with quick play the balls, resulting in an increasing penalty count as the Giants found it hard to maintain their 10m defence.
Three minutes later, after more sustained pressure, Connelly capped off another superb performance with a try to give the minor premiers the lead for the first time in the game.
Hunt missed the kick but it mattered not as this Sharks team was fired up and never looked like conceding again.
Hooker Andy Jeffery was moving his forwards around the field and setting up a string of opportunities.
A move in the 63rd minute created a big hole for Josh Bransby and the youth product blew away several defenders to score from 25m out.
The kick gave the Sharks an eight-point margin, one they would never surrender.
But with 15 minutes to play the Giants still tested the Sharks defence.
This defence is probably the best in the 2017 competition and there was little space to allow Joondalup through.
After weathering another Joondalup push, the Sharks sealed the game 10 minutes from time when Bowman took a pass from Hunt after excellent build up play from Jeffery to break through a hole 20m out.
Hunt missed the kick but barring a major comeback the game was won.
The Giants thought they had scored late on but the touch judge ruled a foot out of play and the Sharks ran out the clock.
“Tough for sure, but we always believed in ourselves,” club skipper Reece Potter said.
“Bring on next week.”
Earlier, third grade just failed to secure a grand final spot, going down 28-12 to Joondalup in their preliminary final off the back of a couple of refereeing mistakes.
“At the end of the day though we only have ourselves to blame,” coach Pete Worth said.
“It’s been a good season, but we just missed out at the end.”