Titans youngster Leva Li was the shining light for Tweed Heads on Sunday with the 21-year-old continuing his promising return from injury by grabbing a double in the Seagulls 32-24 loss to the PNG Hunters.
After shifting from centre to his preferred position of wing, Li grabbed two opportunistic tries in the Seagulls loss, making it three tries from his last two matches and five for the season. After missing the start of the season with a knee injury, Li said he is starting to regain confidence after a slow start.
“I’m starting to get my confidence back after my injury,” Li said.
“Every game is helping with my confidence. I’ve been starting in the backs for a few weeks now so I’m feeling more comfortable. I got pushed to the wing this week and feel a lot more confident there. Having an experienced player like Kalifa on the inside with his talk gives me a lot of confidence.”
In a see-sawing affair which saw both sides cross for five tries, it was the accurate kicking boot of PNG centre Noel Zeming which ultimately separated the two sides. When regular goalkicker Blake Anderson went down with an injury early, Tweed Heads were forced to share the kicking duties with the Seagulls trialling four different kickers throughout the day with Sam Meskell the only successful replacement.
The sides exchanged tries for the first 40 minutes, with Li scoring his first of the day after an aggressive kick-chase resulted in a PNG error and the Seagulls winger swooping on the mistake to score an easy try. The Hunters went into the break with a four-point buffer, leading Tweed 14-10.
The Seagulls were the first to score after the break with halfback Shaun Carney scoring a spectacular try from the kick-off to instantly level scores at 14 all. The in-form Hunters weren’t scared off, and posted two consecutive tries to lead 24-14 with 25 minutes to go.
With 20 minutes remaining, Li crossed the line for the second time, swooping on a cleaver flick-on from Titans teammate Faifai Loa to put his side within a converted try of PNG. Tweed clawed their way back into the game once again when fullback Ali Grant scored, with the referee ruling it a possible eight-point try. The loss of regular goal-kicker Anderson came back to haunt them, with Meskell missing the first conversion attempt before slotting the second from right in front to level scores with 10 minute to go.
However with a possible eight-game winning streak in their sights, the Hunters were always going to be hard to stop. Dynamic hooker Wartovo Puara capped off a superb day, crossing for his second try out of dummy-half to put the travelling side six points ahead. Zeming then slotted a late penalty goal to seal the game for PNG and dash any hope of a Seagulls comeback.
Titans prop Matt White was prominent for the Seagulls, putting in a solid 60 minutes to get some much needed football under his belt. Young hooker Karl Lawton held his own in his Intrust Super Cup debut for the Seagulls with a 20-minute stint off the bench while Caleb Binge worked hard in the back row.
Meanwhil, Burleigh snatched a valuable away win against the Wynnum Manly Seagulls, coming from behind to win 25-24.
The Bears were down 24-12 with half an hour to go, but mounted a late comeback to draw level with the Seagulls before Khan Ahwang stepped up to kick the winning field goal with just a few seconds remaining.
The win makes it three in a row for Burleigh after some varied performances in the weeks before their winning streak.
“We’ve been bagged a fair bit, even by our own supporters at times, for how we’ve performed, but Burleigh is a bit of a rollercoaster,” Bears coach Jim Lenihan said.
“You’ve got to get on, sit on and hold on. We’ve done a good job today and I’m really, really proud of them.
“We say it all the time, but we have the ability to do that we just need to make sure we find the consistency in doing it. The biggest thing to focus on now is next week.”
Prop Mitch Sharp, last year’s Titans under-20s ptrop, got Burleigh off to the perfect start, after he found a big gap in the 10th minute. Ahwang then gifted the away side an eight-point early lead but it was all Wynnum from there on, with the Seagulls taking control and pushing the lead out to 18-8. A Ryley Jacks’ scoot down the blind side just before half time caught Wynnum unaware, and cut the Seagulls lead to just six going into halftime.
Shortly after the break, Wynnum extended the lead out to 12 points on the back of a penalty. However the Bears responded via a lovely pass from Jacks who put Ahang through to cut the lead back to six.
With five minutes left on the clock, it was Jacks again who stood up for the Bears, beating several defenders to cross over for the second time and level scores. It turned out to be valuable momentum for Burleigh, who worked the ball down field and setup Ahwang for the winning field goal.
In some good news for the Titans, Jamie Dowling played at centre for the Bears in a promising performance. Burleigh coach Jim Lenihan said he felt Dowling was ready to step back into the NRL.
“He went really well. He put his hand up for an opportunity,” he said. “There’s no doubt he can go out there and do a really good job for them. His defence is excellent. He’d certainly do a job for the Titans with no problems.”
BURLEIGH BEARS 25 (Ryley Jacks 2, Khan Ahwang, Mitch Sharp tries; Khan Ahwang 4 goals; Khan Ahwang field goal) def WYNNUM MANLY SEAGULLS 24 (Greg Eden 2, John Te Reo, Tanu Wulf tries; Matthew Seamark 4 goals)at BMD Kougari Oval.
Bears: 19. Khan Ahwang 2. Jaiden Hawkes 3. Jamie Dowling 4. Dimitri Pelo 5. Connor Broadhurst 6. Connor Toia 7. Ryley Jacks 8. Mitch Sharp 9. Tom Rowles 10. Josh Ailaomai 11. Tyron Haynes 12. Louie Fanene 13. Darren Griffiths (c) 14. Marino Allen 15. Ayden Lee 20. Shaun Maloney 17. Pele Peletelese
PNG HUNTERS 32 (Wartovo Puara 2, Ase Boas, Brandy Peter, Warren Glare tries; Noel Zeming 6 goals) def TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 24 (Leva Li 2, Ali Grant, Nathanael Barnes, Shaun Carney tries; Blake Anderson, Sam Meskell goals) at Piggabeen Sports.
Seagulls: 1. Ali Grant 2. Nathanael Barnes 3. Blake Anderson 4/19. Kalifa Faifai-Loa 5. Leva Li 6. Ricardo Parata 7. Shaun Carney 8. Damian Sironen (c) 9. Sam Meskell 10. Oliver Percy 11. Caleb Binge 12. Dane Clarke 13. Sam Saville 14. Karl Lawton 15. Jai Ingram 16. Matt White 17. Will Bugden