The Norths Devils are back in the Hostplus Cup grand final after unleashing another finals fightback against the Sunshine Coast Falcons at Bishop Park on Saturday.
The Devils won the Hostplus Cup preliminary final 20-13 to book their second consecutive grand final berth and to continue a remarkable 2022 run.
The premiers were written off in some quarters when they endured a mid-season wobble, losing six out of eight matches and flirting with missing the top eight.
Premiership coach Rohan Smith left after Round 5 when he was recruited to the Leeds Rhinos. This morning, Smith led the Rhinos to a stunning grand final appearance in the UK Super League.
But co-coaches Kevin Neighbour and Ben King held steady and built these Devils for a late-season surge.
Today’s win was the Devils’ sixth consecutive victory – four regular-season wins and a stirring qualifying final victory over minor premiers Burleigh Bears before today’s result.
This was the Devils’ fifth consecutive finals win and four of those have come with second-half fightbacks. Today, they trailed the Falcons 12-13 with 25 minutes remaining but these Devils have kept cool heads.
Five minutes later, the Devils responded when Tyrone Roberts’ spiralling kick bounced off the Falcons. Forward Lloyd Perrett threw a pass like a rugby union halfback to backrower Leivaha Pulu who then found Tony Tumusa flying down the wing for a try that brought Bishop Park to life.
This was the biggest crowd at the Devils’ home for years, and they breathed easier in the 72nd minute when Broncos-contracted five-eighth Tyson Gamble floated a perfect kick for the flying Brayden McGrady.
The winger is one of the most dynamic movers in the competition and he sprinted 45 metres and burst between two defenders as Gamble’s kick sat up for a try in front of the Devils’ famous hill.
But the attacking moments couldn’t overtake another gritty defensive effort by the premiers.
They weathered raid after raid from the Falcons, whose Melbourne Storm-contracted players caused trouble at different stages.
minute when Lazarus Vaalepu crossed before Tyson Smoothy’s field goal established a 7-6 lead at the break.
The Devils took the lead back in the 44th minute when Viko Puliueva, starting at prop alongside Jayden Stephens in the absence of Sam Lavea, scored. Hooker Kierran Moseley pinged from dummy half and found Gamble whose excellent pass was well finished by Puliueva.
The Devils were bolstered by forwards Liam Horne, Jerome Veve and Perrett off the bench while Milson caused problems when he moved into fullback.
Ever-reliable centres Connor Broadhurst and Jacob Gagan again played a significant role.