The injection of livewire Burleigh halfback Shallin Fuller and a lapse of patience in the final minutes of the first half saw the Bears come from 12-0 down to pull off a vital 28-22 victory over fierce rivals Tweed Seagulls at Pizzey Park on Saturday.
Match: Bears v Seagulls
Round 13 -
Venue: Pizzey Park, Gold Coast
Fuller’s unconventional play after he was brought into the game in the 31st minute to replace the injured Conner Toia was a match-winner for Burleigh in another spirited, high-quality derby despite the clash being bereft of up to a dozen Gold Coast Titans players who were unable to assist the two feeder teams because of COVID restrictions.
A chip ahead by the crafty back on the last tackle that was fumbled by the Seagulls led to Burleigh’s first try in the 34th minute after Tweed had led 12-0 and gained all the momentum.
And the 21-year-old from Beaudesert played a major role in two second half tries at a time in the match when whichever team gained the upper hand was likely to win.
In the end, it was a try to winger Andre Niko to break the 22-22 deadlock with five minutes to go that secured a Bears’ victory – from a short grubber kick from centre Sami Sauiluma after Burleigh ran the ball to the left on the last tackle.
The win took the Bears to within one point of Tweed in fourth place on the ladder and was their seventh win in eight matches after a poor start to the season.
While Seagulls coach Ben Woolf was disappointed with giving up a handy lead after a first-class effort in the first half-hour, he left Pizzey Park knowing his team answered the debate about whether they had the depth to be competitive against the top teams without the large contingent of Titans that has been influential in the first 12 rounds.
With three players on debut against a Burleigh side that was hardly affected by the Titans’ lockdown, Tweed competed admirably and would have taken a lot of confidence out of the narrow victory.
“There were just a couple of moments where we let ourselves down and we got things slightly wrong and that ended up being the difference in the end,” Woolf said.
“In the period before half-time we got impatient; we’d talked a lot about playing tough and waiting for fatigue to set in and give us opportunities but we made a couple of poor decisions and didn’t defend them very well.
“Fuller turned the game a little bit when came on. He put our left edge under a bit of pressure; he’s a small body and plays his hand and can get through the defence.
"Having said that, our left edge created all four of our tries and probably bombed two more.
“We did enough to win the game but fell just short. I think there was a bit of doubt whether we could defeat with the better teams without our Titans players and we came up against one of the sides who least depend on NRL players and took them right down to the wire, so our performance was full of merit.”
Left winger Brayden McGrady - in his first appearance for seven weeks because of a hamstring injury - scored three tries with five-eighth Will Brimson inside him setting up two and left centre Lee Turner was also outstanding.
Prop JJ Collins led a tough, grinding performance by the Tweed pack that was missing mainstays Jai Whitbread and Joe Vuna with tremendous support from skipper Lamar Manuel-Liolevave.
But some crucial plays in the final 10 minutes of the first half, and McGrady being denied two more tries – one when the referee overruled his touch judge on a knock on and another when McGrady’s left boot just shaved the touchline – proved the difference in the match that featured some spectacular tries.
One was when Seagulls hooker Liam Hampson, after Tweed received two six-again rulings in the same set, kicked to the right wing from close range on the second tackle 90 seconds before the break, only for the ball to land safely in the hands of Niko.
From the possession, the Bears ran 90 metres in three plays with right winger Connor Carey latching onto a bust by fullback Kurtis Rowe and beating opposite No.1 Lindon McGrady who didn’t commit to the tackle after contemplating trying to intercept an inside pass. Josh Rogers’ conversion left the Bears just behind at 12-10 after being 12 points in arrears six minutes earlier.
Burleigh had the territorial advantage for almost all of the first 15 minutes of the match, but it was Tweed who broke the arm-wrestle to post first points.
An offload by Collins went to ground but halfback Luke Jurd scooped up the ball just inside the Seagulls’ half and went to the left, threw a dummy which fooled the Burleigh defence and broke through and sent a perfect long pass inside to the supporting Brayden McGrady who scored under the posts. Lindon McGrady converted for 6-0.
The Seagulls went further ahead in the 21st minute when Brimson went over from dummy-half, darting left and dummying then burrowing under two tacklers to push over the line. McGrady again added the extras to give the visitors a handy 12-0 lead.
Seven minutes before the break, Fuller took the odds of a midfield last-tackle chip over the top which was fumbled between Collins and Lindon McGrady. It was the break Burleigh desperately needed and they took advantage with the ball going left through Rogers to Rowe who tipped the ball onto Niko who snuck into the left corner in the 34th minute.
Carey’s try made it 12-10 but Tweed struck back 11 minutes into the second half when Brimson threw a brilliant long ball to Brayden McGrady on the left touchline to put Tweed six clear at 16-10.
It took only four minutes for the Bears to strike back, and it was all through the effort of Fuller. First he put centre Josh Berkers through on the right but he was brought down by Lindon McGrady.
Fuller again stepped and beat a tackle in the next play, bounced off the ground and offloaded to Rogers who scored to the left of the posts and converted for 16-16.
Just short of the 60th minute-mark, Burleigh’s X-Factor tormented the Seagulls again when he grubbered into the in-goal and Rogers was first to the ball to put the Bears into the lead for the first time at 22-16 with Rogers’ conversion.
Tweed levelled at 22-22 in the 72nd when Brimson went down the short side from dummy-half and passed to Turner, who beat three defenders before feeding Brayden McGrady on the outside to post a brilliant try. Lindon McGrady converted.
Then came the crucial play in the 75th minute when Burleigh elected to run the ball; Rogers took over the play with a long pass to Sauiluma who got a little lucky with his grubber under pressure five metres short of the line which popped up for Niko to grab it and score... and activate one of his familiar try celebrations.
The Bears will head west to Chinchilla to face Wynnum Manly in Activate! Queensland Country Week next Saturday.
Match: Bears v WM Seagulls
Round 14 -
Venue: Bulldog Park, Chinchilla
Tweed travel to Murgon to take on Sunshine Coast.
Match: Falcons v Seagulls
Round 14 -
Venue: Murgon RL Grounds, Murgon