By Neil Cadigan
Tweed Seagulls are one victory away from their first grand final in one decade after a 41-22 victory in the elimination semi-final against Redcliffe Dolphins at Tugun on Saturday.
Tweed will play Wynnum Manly in a ‘flockbuster’ preliminary final next Sunday at Suncorp Stadium in the first curtain-raiser to the NRL grand final.
The victory, which avenged a 25-24 loss the last time the two teams met in the finals – in 2019 – came on the back of a hot start by the Seagulls that saw them 18-0 after 14 minutes and a decisive performance by halfback Toby Sexton who scored 17 points from one try, six goals and one field goal.
Sexton controlled played well but the performance of hooker Brent Woolf was again an eye-catcher. He scored one try, played a major hand in two others and pulled off some big hits on much bigger men to lift his side in a tireless performance.
Tweed’s spine took a step forward from its effort in last week’s narrow loss to minor premiers Norths with fullback Lindon McGrady involved in some smart attacking moves and Liam Hampson proving the perfect dummy half tandem with Woolf who spent part of the game at lock.
Winger Ryland Jacobs also made some telling runs through the middle while the Tweed pack worked hard.
“It was another performance that showed a lot of character,” Tweed coach Ben Woolf said.
“We showed a lot more patience at key times, kicked better than we had been and, even though we let them back into the game in the back end of the first half when we went away from what we intended to do, it was a great effort to work back into the game at the start of the second half then put on a couple of tries that gave us a handy buffer.
“It was the same with our defence; we could have been better when we let them back from 18-0 to 18-12 but when we had to play tough, we did. That reflects the character the team has shown most of this year.”
It took less than four minutes for the Seagulls to post first points in the first half during which they had a strong wind at their backs.
Skipper Lamar Liolevave squeezed through the defence to get to a neat short grubber kick to the in-goal by halfback Sexton after a repeat set of six. Sexton landed the conversion for an early 6-0 lead.
Lamar Liolevave try in the third minute.
Soon after Tweed were over again from another repeat set, this time from a penalty awarded for a high tackle by Redcliffe skipper Cameron Cullen on John Macklin. Braden Robson stood in a tackle close to the line and offloaded to Brent Woolf who passed to Liolevave to who put centre Lee Turner over the line with a smart short pass.
The Gulls were over for their third try in the 13th minute from a possession that resulted from a short McGrady line drop-out that was snapped up Turner.
Tweed worked the ball upfield well and on the last tackle it was another clever grubber from Sexton that grabbed the money, this time Robson pouncing on a fumble by Josh Beehag. Sexton’s goal made it 18-0 at the 14th minute mark with Redcliffe having hardly touched the ball.
The score could have easily blown out soon after only for winger Macklin over-running in support of a right-hand shift and the pass from Treymain Spry that put Macklin over the try-line being ruled forward.
Redcliffe scored a much-needed six points when McGrady let a short chip kick into the wind by Cullen but it sat up and bounced at right angles and winger Will Partridge picked up the ball on the second bounce and crossed under the posts, giving himself an easy conversion.
Sexton was denied a try when, after stepping through a yawning gap, the referee called him back for an obstruction by lead runner JJ Collins.
Four minutes before half-time Redcliffe had brought the margin back to six points when he stepped through the defence from short range and scored next to the posts.
Redcliffe went into the second half, knowing they had a strong wind at their backs, with renewed confidence after having such a small proportion of possession in the first half hour and making 56 more tackles than Tweed in the first half.
Yet it was Tweed who had the best of the second session despite running into the wind, winning the half 23-10.
Their first score of the half was a brilliant try scored by right winger Macklin after a great cut out pass from McLinden gave him space on the touchline. Sexton converted into the wind from wide out to give Tweed a 12-point buffer.
Less than four minutes later Jack Glossop was over from a smart pass by Woolf.
The Dolphins put themselves back into the game at 28-18 with a converted try to Jeremy Hawkins with 17 minutes to go after Mackin had squandered possession near his own life.
However, the Seagulls regained control and ran away with the game. And it was Woolf who virtually wrapped up the victory when he plunged over from dummy half to give the Gullies a 34-18 lead in the 67th minute before Sexton dummied and beat two defenders then stepped another from 25 metres to ice the win when he dived under the posts.
Preston Riki scored a consolation try three minutes from the end from an intercept of a Tevin Arona pass before Sexton, who has played four NRL games for the Titans this year, practised for a possible pressure moment when he landed a field goal with five seconds on the clock.
The Seagulls’ last grand final appearance was a 2011 loss to Wynnum Manly 16-10 and their only premiership was in 2007 when they beat Redcliffe 28-18 in the decider