By Rikki-Lee Arnold
Townsville have booked their place in next month’s XXXX League Championship final, after showing “great heart and great character” to overcome the Rockhampton Rustlers.
Not once dropping their lead, Townsville were ruthless against their Central ounterparts in Saturday night’s semi-final, claiming a 40-28 victory at Rockhampton’s Browne Park.
They raced out to a 22-0 lead within the first 22 minutes, and while Rockhampton certainly showed flashes of brilliance and threatened a late comeback, they were no match for the clinical Northern outfit.
It was a game plan that was very well executed, with co-coach Roy Baira revealing after the match that they wanted to quickly throw the Rustlers off their game.
Baira, who leads the team with Queensland Maroons great Matt Bowen, said they could not have been prouder of their team’s performance.
“We’re extremely happy,” Baira said.
“They showed great character and great heart. They’ve done the North proud.
“We wanted to come out fast and blow them off the park. We did a really good job of that.
“Through the middle third they came back and showed great heart as well, but that start really helped us win the game.
“They came home with a wet sail and we were lucky to hold out there.”
Despite Townsville racing out to the 22-0 lead, Rockhampton nabbed one try through Justin Asse just before half-time – with the away team going into the break with a 28-6 lead – and piled on another four tries in the second half, including two within the final 10 minutes.
They were within striking distance of Townsville, but couldn’t beat the clock to pull off a miracle.
Even with Townsville’s convincing win, they did suffer a number of setbacks, including injuries to prop Nick Brown (dislocated knee) and lock Mitch Grimes (ribs).
Brown was taken to hospital at half-time while backrower Jack Johnson also pushed through shoulder pain to play the full 80 minutes for Townsville.
The side will now turn their attention to the Gold Coast Vikings, who they will host in the XXXX League Championship final on Saturday, July 30, after the South East team won through to the decider with their XXXX Chairman’s Challenge victory in May.
Baira said he and Bowen had already started doing their homework on the Gold Coast team and were ready to switch focus to the state title next month.
“Our work has already started,” Baira said.