A smaller, younger Cessnock Goannas battled hard and showed plenty of class in losing 30-18 to Central Newcastle in Sunday's under-19 preliminary final.
The physically imposing Butcher Boys stole the march in the first half against the young Goannas, running in three tries on the back of a huge forward pack and damaging centres to lead 14-0 at the break.
But the Cessnock boys stuck to their task and chanced their arm in attack led by hooker Nick Lawrence who scored one try and set up another.
Lawrence darted from dummy half to cross under the posts to score the Goannas first try.
He then showed some football genius to kick immediately from a scrum to set up fullback Harrison O’Brien who out sprinted the Central defence, which had been up at the line, and score in the corner.
Cessnock coach Brad Hafey said he was extremely proud of his young team who never wavered despite being undersized against Centrals.
“About 90 per cent of the team is still eligible to play under 19s next year and the difference in age showed in their physical development,” he said.
“We stuck to the task and chanced our arm in the second half and were rewarded with points, but full credit to Centrals they deserved the win.
“If the boys stick together I think we can look forward to a big year next year and going into the future for the Goannas.”
Hafey said the whole team had put in, but young hooker Lawrence showed his class particularly in the second half with some clever plays which left the Centrals defenders flat-footed.
“NIck is viewed by many as probably the most talented player in the under 19s across the league. He showed exactly what he is capable of and he has a big future.”
Goannas halfback and captain Bailey Bromage said the team had pushed themselves from the final regular season game when they qualified for the semi-finals by defeating Kurri Kurri.
“If we had lost that game and Maitland ended up winning we wouldn’t have made it. It’s bitter sweet, but we should be proud of finishing third,” he said.
The young Goannas defeated the Bulldogs in the first round of the finals and then accounted for South Newcastle in a golden-point win in the minor semi-final
Bromage paid tribute to Hafey, the coaching and support staff for their efforts.
“The players really want to thank Brad (Hafey) and the coaching and support staff for all their efforts throughout the year,” he said.
“To everyone at the club and the supporters who got right behind us, especially the first grade boys who came down and trained with us, ran water during the game, we really appreciated it.”
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