Northern Thunder storm into Preliminary Final
By Chris Avnell
A wet and windy day greeted the juniors at Bruce Comben Reserve before the weather cleared up and allowed First Grade to be played in the sunlight on Saturday.
Sunbury Tigers had come into the Minor Semi Final after finishing third on the table on 22 points, winning their final four matches of the season over Waverley, Doveton, Altona and North West Wolves.
Northern Thunder had a different lead in to finals, with a final round draw with Waverley being preceded by a cancelled match due to wild winds on the 29th July. Finishing fourth with 20 points, Thunder were buoyed with confidence knowing they beat Sunbury already this season.
In fact, the two meetings this season were split 1-1 with Thunder winning a tight 30-28 clash in Round 1 before Sunbury earning the upper hand in a comprehensive 56-24 victory in Round 9.
The Minor Semi Final kicked off, and it wasn’t long before Sunbury took the lead. An early try to Tommy Katene gave them the 4-0 lead and the perfect start to the semi-final.
Northern Thunder found a way through to equalise when William Sila crossed for Thunder’s first try of the match.
Sunbury applied pressure to Thunder again and again with excellent movement and ball running, looking the far better team early.
NRL Victoria First Grade’s 2017 leading tryscorer and Sunbury big gun Samisoni Fusi continued his stellar season by crossing the line and capitalising on that pressure applied from Sunbury. The conversion from five-eighth Alti Porter saw Sunbury lead 10-4 and take that lead to the half-time break.
Thunder looked as though they needed the break, but from kick-off in the second half it was obvious that they had lifted after the halftime instructions from coach Edward Simamao. Thunder started the second half well, running plays and some strong running allowing for metres to be gained almost at will.
Thunder took advantage of this strong period when in the 48th minute, Jake Vaaua excellently carving up the left edge putting Edmund Tyrell into space before receiving the ball back and crossing himself to close the gap on the scoreboard. William Sila converted well and Sunbury led 12-10.
Only 3 minutes later, Sunbury’s defence tried their hardest to deny Thunder the lead but weren’t able to hold out. Konelio Vaiga went very close to scoring, before Derek Maota dived over from close range to take the lead for Thunder. William Sila converted again to extend the lead to 16-12.
Thunder had looked a complete different team at times in the second half, and one key part of that change was Sakaria Susuga who repeatedly ran straight and strong breaking the line and gaining metres with each run in a great effort from the lock.
In the 60th minute, a skilful play down the right side allowed Thunder’s Siona Tauafao to bust through the Sunbury defence and put Thunder ahead 20-12. William Sila again converted to push the lead to 10 points.
Sunbury indicated just 4 minutes later that they weren’t giving up just yet, with Alti Porter outwitting and breaking the defensive line to put Siona Siale into space along the wing. A long pass from Siale back to the inside found Porter supporting after his earlier play and allowed him to score for the Tigers. The conversion from Porter was missed and the score sat with a Thunder lead of 22-16 leading into the last 10 minutes of the game.
With Thunder again applying pressure on the Sunbury defence, the defence slipped up in the 75th minute and saw a penalty blown against them allowing Sila a shot at a penalty goal. Sila’s kick was straight and extended the lead back out to 24-16.
The following kick-off from a desperate Sunbury was misjudged and sailed out on the full, before again, a desperate defence gave away another penalty for a strip and allowed William Sila to ice the game in the last minute with another penalty goal.
With the win, Northern Thunder earned themselves a spot in this weekend’s Preliminary Final where they will take on Major Semi Final losers Casey Warriors while its season over for the Sunbury Tigers.
Northern Thunder 26 (Tries: William Sila, Jake Vaaua, Derek Maota, Siona Tauafao. Goals: William Sila 5) defeated Sunbury Tigers 16 (Tries: Tommy Katene, Samisoni Fusi, Alti Porter. Goals: Alti Porter 2)