BULLS GIVE TIGERS A START AND A BEATING
By Les Muir
SOUTHCITY moved a precious step closer to defending their Group Nine crown by upstaging Gundagai in the major semi-final at Harris Park on Sunday.
After being on the ropes when Gundagai struck for two early tries, Southcity turned on a blistering second half to beat the Tigers 26-22 in a thriller.
The victory has swept Southcity into the grand final on September 9, while Gundagai will play Tumut in the preliminary final at McDonald’s Park next Saturday.
The preliminary final was originally scheduled to be played on Sunday, but was shifted to Saturday to give the winning team a complete week’s rest before the grand final.
A year after clinching their second Group Nine title, Southcity will strive to complete a premiership double in the historic twilight decider on Saturday week (September 9).
Not for the first time, Southcity needed to show remarkable resilience to rein in Gundagai.
The Tigers scored three tries in the first half to lead 16-10 at halftime, but the Bulls responded with a cracking performance in the second term.
Playing without champion halfback Kyle McCarthy (injured) and gun hooker Pani Manawatu (work commitments), Southcity blazed on three tries to open the second half and break away to a 26-16 advantage.
Inspired by a barnstorming display by lock Jordan Shepherd and a three-try haul to centre Usaia O’Sullivan, the Bulls held the Tigers out in a tense finish.
Gundagai fullback Dane O’Hehir scored a superb solo try in the 74th minute to give the team a chance before Tigers centre Damian Willis was denied a try four minutes later.
With time running out, Willis crashed over the line, but frenzied Southcity defenders managed to stop him from grounding the ball.
For Jordan Shepherd, the tight result was a personal triumph.
Shepherd was clearly the best forward on the field and said the team had rallied to the words of captain-coach Nick Skinner at halftime.
“He (Skinner) just told us to stay composed and we knew we had the wind in the second half which is a pretty big advantage,:” Shepherd said.
In playing such a huge role in forcing Gundagai into a sudden-death duel with Tumut in the preliminary final next Saturday, Shepherd definitely repaid the Tigers for pain and anguish.
“I actually broke my hand against them up there (Gundagai) and had a month out,” Shepherd said.
Despite Gundagai making a flying start, Shepherd said the Bulls were always determined to launch a recovery.
“We let a few early tries in but we stayed confident and didn’t panic,” he said.
Shepherd’s efforts earned him the WaggaWaggaTV man of the match award.
Sunday – major semi-final
SOUTHCITY 26 (U O’Sullivan 3, H Jeans, S Tracey tries; S Tracey 3 goals) d GUNDAGAI 22 (D O’Hehir 2, T Gorman, C Rose tries; J Smart 2, L Berkrey goals) at Harris Park. Scrums: 4-5. Penalties: 5-3. Gate: $5900. Referee: Scott Muir (8)