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Balmain’s belief takes them all the way to final Sunday

September 24 2012

by Jodie Newell

Tigers coach Paul Fletcher and captain Sean Meaney have been telling the VB NSW Cup world throughout the finals, “We have the belief to go all the way”. That claim now has to be taken seriously after the Balmain Ryde Eastwood Tigers continued their incredible finals run defeating Newcastle 26-24.

Ironically the 7th (Newtown Jets) and 8th placed teams have made the VB NSW Cup grand final creating a traditional club showdown at ANZ Stadium this Sunday.

“There’s true belief there.

The boys keep turning up for each other, I’m so proud of them”

- Paul Fletcher, Balmain Ryde Eastwood coach

Newcastle entered the match with high expectations after a fighting win against the more fancied North Sydney Bears at Kogarah Oval two weeks ago. Likewise the Tiger combine came into the game with the prized scalps of Windsor and Wentworthville.

Both sides began the contest with punishing hit-ups and tackles. Tiger prop Ray Cashmere slammed into his Newcastle opponents with fierce velocity, whilst for the Knights centre Junior Sa’u matched the tackling intensity.

The Knights were the first to crack when on a last tackle Tigers kick, Kevin Naiqama was unable to gather on the tricky bounce. Balmain captain Sean Meaney stormed into the try-zone and got the ball down in a superb hustle play. Meaney converted Tigers 6-0.

Newcastle were gifted excellent field position on the return kick when the Tigers dropped the ball close to the tryline. Hooker Chris Adams made sure of the opportunity, spinning his way out of a couple of tackles and landed in to score. Sharpshooting kicker Josh Mantellato made light work of the conversion tying the game up 6-6.

The Knights were beginning to dominate around the ruck and made several probing runs, but thanks to some tenacious defending from Balmain, they were unable to capitalize on their efforts. Their cause would be seriously undermined when key player in Josh Mantellato suffered a nasty broken left forearm injury and was unable to play any further part in the game. He was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney to have the injury treated.

The loss of Mantellato forced the Knights to re-shuffle their attack and it seemed to unsettle their gameplan. After weathering the attacking storm of the Knights, Josh Davis of Balmain broke through the Newcastle lines and ran for 80 meters to score a thrilling try. Seam Meaney booted a superb conversion on the angle and the Tigers had a 12-6 lead.

Newcastle reused to yield and were soon back on the scoreboard. The Tiger defense were unable to clear a 5th tackle chip kick lodged by Ethan Cook. Alex Moore slammed down on the ball for a try. Wes Naiqama had taken over the kicking duties after the injury to Mantellato. The Tiger chant of “Lolly Legs” erupted from the hill and had an effect as Naiqama was unable to convert his first attempt This left he Tigers ahead at 12-10 on the half -time break.

The Knights began the second half brilliantly. On the back of a penalty, Newcastle playmaker Mitch Williams offloaded a crisp pass to Robbie Rochow who crashed his way through the Balmain defensive lines to score. This time Wes Naiqama had no troubles booting the conversion. The Knights back in the lead 16-12.

It looked like Newcastle would score again on the return kick, but Robbie Rochow forced a knock on and the smart play was snuffed out. The Knights soon had a lucky break via a penalty in front of the posts. Wes Naiqama chose to take the shot at goal and made no mistake. The Knights led by a converted try 18-12.

Winger Tom Humble started some much needed momentum for the Tigers when he made a galloping run towards the posts, but was unable to hang onto the ball and knocked on. He quickly made amends by executing a high bomb on the next set of tackles. Again the hustle playmaker in Sean Meaney snagged another opportunistic try and converted, leaving the scores tied at 18 -18.

The Balmain offense had sparked into action. They forced consecutive goal line drop outs, before Sean Meaney was awarded a penalty after a high tackle. Meaney elected to take the kick, which he slotted and the Tigers had the lead 20-18.

The Knights would not go away and threw everything they had at the Tigers. Hard man Ray Cashmere led by example defending grimly at the desperate Knights attack.

The hard work paid off when Balmain next went forward. They forced another goal line drop out and on the back of this were able to score via a handy Nathan Waters chip kick which saw Josh Davis score. Meaney added the extras and the Tigers strenthened their grip on the game 26-18.

With time running out, Newcastle desperately tried to somehow find a way to win, but the Tigers stopped any chance of a Knights victory. Kevin Naiqama scored a late consolation try, but it wasn't enough and the Balmain Tigers booked a passage to the grand final by 2 points, 26-24.

The Newcastle players were bitterly disappointed at the final siren, staring blankly into space knowing they had missed out on grand final glory. The pain was compounded as a number of players will be leaving the club next season and were looking to finish on a high. Rip Taylor coached his last game with Wes Naiqama heading to Penrith and Junior Sa'u heading to the Melbourne Storm on a one-year deal.

For the Balmain Ryde Eastwood team, the scenes were the exact opposite with coach Paul Fletcher displaying a wide grin as he congratulated his charges. The Balmain faithful cheered from the outer at their side’s excellent effort. The Tigers now play another foundation club in the Newtown Jets with what should be a fascinating encounter next Sunday at ANZ Stadium.

The tackling was tough and uncompromising by both sides on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval

image: 2012 NewellMediaGroup

Final score:  Balmain Ryde Eastwood 26 defeated Newcastle 24

Tries Tigers: Josh Davis, Jarred Farlow, Sean Meaney, David Harris

Tries Knights: Chris Adams, Alex Moore, Robbie Rochow, Kevin Naiqama

Conversions Tigers:  Sean Meaney 5

Conversions Knights:  Wes Naiqama 3, Josh Mantellato

Referee: Jon Stone

Touch Judges :  Brendan Wood  Jay Farlow

In-goal Judges :  Brendan Lucas Ryan Jackson

At Leichhardt Oval