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away Wests in Southern final
Both sides fielded full strength sides for this eagerly awaited clash in front of a packed grandstand at Storm Park.
With rain lashing in at kick-off and staying throughout the match it looked a good omen as the Storm came to watch the match. It did cause some issues as both sides struggled with completions early and Wests half Mark Barnes was dictating the pace and direction of the game. Wests spent long periods in Souths red zone, but the Storm defence held strong and the Sharks were unable to make the vital breakthrough.
In the 13th minute, Storm fullback Mitch Moore Thundered down the pitch making a dazzling run from 40 metres out, stepping off both feet and leaving washed up Sharks in his wake. They just caught him short but stand-off Mick Walker plunged over from dummy half for a 4-0 lead.
An error from a great tactical kick-off enabled Wests to apply 5 minutes of pressure and the sniff of blood. From this pressure they gained a deserved converted try under the posts from a last tackle kick from the canny Barnes.
The fierce contest continued with a series of bone-rattling hits. Then from a scrum on Wests 30, Storm half Dave Wilson found the tightest of holes for Storms own lightening bolt Mick Walker to score under the posts. The conversion from Louis Neethling made the score 10-6 after 29.
Neethling extended this to 12-6 in the 35th after a penalty for holding down, and at half time, the match was there for the taking.
The second half continued to be a brutal and tight affair, but signs were appearing that Souths backline, the catalyst for over 700 points this season, were starting to blow and churn up the waters around the Sharks.
The turning points came in the 64th minute. A break on the halfway by Storm prop Neethling saw a massive wave of Storm players come pouring through the gaps. As Neethling one handed offload then went through 4 sets of hands for Walker to score his third, converted for 18-6.
At the same moment the Shark who had looked to be the most dangerous, Mark Barnes, also left the field with a torn groin muscle, denting Wests hopes of a recovery.
A hard fought match was sealed by a sensational converted try in the 70th minute. Storm fullback Mitch Moore with his mesmeric footwork returned a kick 60m, before offloading in the tackle to sub Andrew Jackson who fed a flying Gav Calloo who raced over under the posts.
A sensational game finished as it started in the rain but this did not dampen the spirits of anyone there and the Storm players deservedly walked off with the spoils. Tane Kingi the storm captain spoke to the crowd after the game and summed up the attitude at the Storm this year ?This is not down to these 17 players alone? he commented ?30+ players have played in the Premier team this year and each one deserves to stand here now. To the crowd who have supported us so much this year thanks to you all and to all the back room staff who have done so much this season to get us where we are. This has been an almighty effort and the club deserves to be very proud.?
Mick Walker's 3 try effort earned him the man of the match award amongst a host of brave efforts on both sides.
Triumphant Storm coach Rob Powell paid tribute to his side's win. "Our defence won the game for us. They had so much possession in our quarter, but we held on, and that was enough to keep us in it until we wore them down. We knew if we defended well, our attack would create enough opportunities to win. As they have all season, they played as a team."
South London now progress to the National semi-finals, facing the Welsh premiers Sunday in Gloucester.
South London 24 (Walker 3, Calloo tries, Neethling 4 goals), defeated West London 6 (Barnes try, goal)
South London: Mitch Moore, Phil Molloy, Tane Kingi, Carl Zacharow, Peter Maddigan, Mick Walker, David Wilson, Gavin Hill, Nathan Morris, Louis Neethling, Gavin Calloo, Keri Ryan, Rich Singleton (subs) Jason More, Mark Nesbitt, Andrew Jackson, Niel Templeman
West London: Tom Howden, Terence Puna, Phil Astbury, Craig Kruger, Dan Agland, Rob McLean, Mark Barnes, Mike Byrnes, Gavin Gordon, Lawrence Ross, Jason Keenan, Lennie Faitaua, Paul Richards (Subs) Jason Judkins, Amani Naea, Travers Bonney Joel Waetford