The Essential Coffee Burleigh Bears have produced their best performance of the year to defeat Sunshine Coast Falcons 24-6 and advance to the Intrust Super Cup grand final.
The Bears were outstanding as they eliminated the competition favourites and booked their place in the grand final for the first time since 2016, where they will meet the Wynnum Manly Seagulls.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Bears coach Jimmy Lenihan said. “We only had to beat them once at the right time and we managed to do it.
“I think we ended the first half with 18/21 sets and they were 5/7. They were unbelievable stats and we probably needed to play that way to give ourselves a chance.”
With a strong wind at their back in the first half, the Bears came out of the gates with ferocity and produced arguably their best 40-minutes of the season.
Their physical intensity was relentless, and the kicking game of Pat Politoni and Jamal Fogarty returned an incredible 7 forced dropouts in the first half alone.
The Falcons were courageous in defence, and continually repelled the Burleigh attacks, but the home side kept knocking on the door until Hastings Deering man of the match Dylan Phythian found a crack in the 16th minute.
He took the line on and got an arm free, offloading to Blake Leary for the opening try.
Fogarty and Politoni kept the pressure on with a 40/20 each, while it was again Phythian who sparked the next try.
After receiving the ball flat footed just inside the 20, Phythian jinked and got through the front line before flick passing to Politoni who pushed his way over for the try.
Coupled with an early penalty goal and with 69% of possession, the Bears would take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The Falcons suffered a massive loss, with star halfback Todd Murphy unable to return in the second half, while Burleigh kept the roll going.
A perfect Fogarty grubber kick sat up for Hayden Schwass to stretch the Burleigh lead to 20-0 in the 56th minute, while a long-range Sami Sauiluma try in the 59th gave the Bears a lead of four converted tries.
Sunshine Coast avoided the shutout with a late try to Nathan Saumalu, but it was little consolation for a disappointed Falcons who dominated the Intrust Super Cup throughout the regular season.
Lenihan was full of praise for the Falcons, who he said set the standard for other teams to rise to in 2019.
“I almost feel sorry for Sunny Coast in a way,” he said. “Everybody has spent all year telling them they were going to win it and how far they’ll win it by, and with that comes a bit of expectation and pressure.
“There is no doubt they are the benchmark of the competition this year. They’ve taken defence to a new level and I’m just really proud that we were able to get them.”
The performance of man of the match Phythian, whose running game and unpredictability played a key role in three of Burleigh’s four tries, was even more impressive considering some recent personal loss.
Phythian and his partner recently suffered a personal family, with Burleigh players and officials wearing pink armbands in solidarity.
“He was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant,” Lenihan said of Phythian.
“His big, running body was a handful for them and there was a point there where people started to worry that we weren’t going to score points even though we had all that possession; but it wasn’t about points at that stage, it was about taking petrol out of their tank.
“We had good composure. Jamal (Fogarty), Pat (Politoni), Kurty (Rowe) and (Phythian) really did a good job with their short kicking game and we were just able to strangle them.”
Burleigh will take on Wynnum Manly Seagulls in the 2019 Intrust Super Cup grand final next Sunday afternoon at 3.15pm at Redcliffe’s Dolphin Stadium.