Bitter pill to swallow as Reef Raiders bow out in style
The Reef Raiders have bowed out of the Rainforestation Cup after losing 35-26 to Barron Trinity Bulls in this FNQ Rugby Union elimination final at Stan Williams Park, Cairns on Saturday.
And in the words of Raiders coach Travis Gooch, “it was a bitter pill to swallow.”
The Bulls had everything on their side in the first 40 minutes and used this to build a solid platform from three tries, one conversion and a penalty giving them a 20-0 lead at the change. Luck was perhaps another factor after being awarded a try in the 14th minute when the Bulls player appeared to brush the corner flag.
They also enjoyed hearing the referee’s whistle, which seemed to have a Bulls ring to it, as he penalised the Raiders on no fewer than 11 times in the first 10 minutes.
But the Raiders did not help their cause, though, for back-chatting the referee and on one occasion, were sent back 20 yards and Shana Aue was yellow-carded for his over-exuberance.
The barrage of penalties and perhaps semi-final nerves clearly rattled the Port Douglas team, who also struggled to sustain the Bulls’ physicality.
They also conceded what was an opportunistic try in the 32nd minute. After camping on the Bulls’ line, they lost possession, the Bulls kicked ahead and after misjudging the kick, the Bulls regained possession and scored. This was against the run of play and gave the hosts a 20-0 lead.
It was a different story in the second half as the Bulls seemed to lose their momentum, slowed their pace and also displayed a lack of fitness.
The Raiders capitalised and were more polished in the final half. Although the Raiders outscored their opponents 26-15 during this period, they were reminded rugby is an 80-minute game and the Bulls’ first half foundation was enough to get them through.
The Raiders’ second half points came from a penalty try, tries by Esteban Correa, Thaddius Minniecon and Clint Ratatagia. Ethan Hoffman added two conversions. They put their possession to good use, staged numerous raids and centre Correa again displayed his flair and ability to cut holes in the Bulls defence.
Raiders’ eighthman Jack Murday was clearly the best player on the field and you have to wonder how he would perform at a more senior level. He was a tower of strength in every aspect of the game: his lineout work was exceptional, his work rate in the loose and ball carrying was outstanding, and he was equally solid in defence. Sadly, there were a number of occasions when he lacked support when driving upfield.
There were moments in this half that must have pleased Raiders fans. In the 26th minute Correa scored an excellent try following a sterling run by Lachlan Cowe; and in the 35th minute veteran Adrian Bannerman had a storming run before passing to Minniecon who scored.
And on full-time scrumhalf Juan Dillon, who was again his ebullient self, was unlucky not to score. From a darting run, he kicked ahead, re-gathered and dived over with Bulls players clinging to him. The referee, however, decided he had not touched down and did not award the try.
Gooch praised his players despite the loss and said it had been a great ride.
“I am proud of everyone who has been a part of this team. Some of the players have come from afar and we appreciated that. They played with heart, this has been a tight group and we hung in deep,” he said.
For the Raiders, who won the Premiership in 2008 and 2014, this has been their most successful season in a number of years and provided they are able to attract enough players, it augurs well for next year.
Southside will play the Bulls in the preliminary final and the winner of this match, will meet JCU in the final.
All the action from the Elimination Final. Images by Joanne Cowe.
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