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It was a day of contrasting outcomes for Australia?s oldest Rugby League club at Telstra Stadium on Saturday. The Newtown Jets have gone through to the VB Premier League Grand Final against Parramatta at Telstra Stadium next Sunday, following their thrilling 38-28 win over St. George-Illawarra in the Preliminary Final. In the 2006 Jim Beam Cup Grand Final, the young Newtown team?s inspired charge through a series of sudden-death finals matches came to an end when they were decisively beaten by the Sydney Bulls 56-22.
The Jets began the VB Premier League Preliminary Final match badly, conceding an easy try to the Dragons after only four minutes. Newtown rallied and replied quickly with tries to centre Vince Mellars and second-rower Lopini Paea, which were both improved upon by half-back Josh Lewis. Repeated penalties and some flakey midfield defence by the Jets gave the Dragons the territorial platform for two converted tries midway through the first half. Newtown responded ten minutes prior to half-time with a fine try involving centre Mitch Aubusson and winger Troy Malcolm which was finished off by the interchange player Luke Gordon. Both teams went to the break locked up at 18-all.
The Dragons quickly regained the lead with a penalty goal two minutes into the second half. Newtown?s scrum-base pairing of Josh Lewis and Jamie Soward put their skills on show when they combined with Gordon to send front-rower Charles Tonga over out wide. Lewis?s conversion attempt hit the upright and bounced away. The Dragons had slightly the better of this tense contest nearing the middle of the second half when they scored two unconverted tries to lead 28-22 with 24 minutes remaining.
Newtown hung in and maintained their strength and composure as the clock inexorably ran down. With only eight minutes remaining Lewis and Soward turned on a superbly-executed set play which sent the impressive young winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall in at the southern left-hand corner. Repeat sets to the Jets had the Dragons defending desperately, and four minutes out from full-time Soward pounced on a beautifully-weighted in-goal grubber kick from Lewis to score by the posts, with Lewis?s conversion taking Newtown to a 32-28 lead. Lewis the supremo brought the house down with his last-minute intercept and 50 metre dash to score under the posts, with the concentration of Newtown supporters at the southern end in raptures.
Mickey and Lopini Paea both had strong games in the Newtown forwards, along with Charles Tonga and hooker Heath L?Estrange. Best in the backs for the Jets were fullback Aidan Kirk, the very efficient winger Troy Malcolm, Vince Mellars and those masters of Rugby League alchemy, halves Lewis and Soward. Young Kiwi winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall made a genuine impact when he was introduced into the game in the second half.
Newtown?s charmed run in the 2006 Jim Beam Cup finals series came to an abrupt end on Saturday night when they were comprehensively beaten by the Sydney Bulls by 56-22. The young Jets had been no sure things to make the playoffs as late as with three competition rounds remaining, so to advance as far as the Grand Final has been a sterling effort.
The Jets hacked the pace with the Bulls throughout the first half and went into the half-time break 22-18 in arrears. Centre Darren Lang, lively five-eighth Charlie Herekotukutuku and classy wingman Anton La Vin had scored Newtown?s tries, all of which were converted by fullback Toufic Nicolas.
Newtown?s hopes were blown away in the opening ten minutes of the second half as the Bulls raced away to a 40-18 match-winning lead. The Jets fought on gamely for the remainder of the match but their finals run had been derailed in that lethal ten-minute spell after half-time.
Newtown coach Greg Matterson preferred not to single out any of his players for special praise but he emphasised his pride in his young team?s effort to fight so hard and to come so far in the competition. He added that every player could take plenty out of the season, during which they all had provided an invaluable backup to the Jets? successful VB Premier League campaign. Many thanks to the team?s major sponsor Anthony Tuite from the Royal Exchange Hotel, Marrickville whose generosity knew no bounds throughout the season.
The Jets travel back to Telstra Stadium for next Sunday?s VB Premier League Grand Final against Parramatta, due to kick off at 3.50pm. Newtown supporters not going to the Stadium can watch the game live on the big screens at the Jets Sports Club (Holbeach Avenue, Tempe).
Newtown front-rower Glenn Hall takes on the Dragons defence at Telstra Stadium on Saturday.
Photo courtesy of Gary Sutherland Photography.