By Casey O'Connor
Rugby League supporters should be salivating at the prospect of the 2018 TRL grand final this weekend after Minor Premiers Wattles set up a much anticipated grand final clash with arch rivals Valleys after their win over Highfields in a Preliminary Final cliff hanger last Sunday
After a week of turmoil and disruption which saw their co-captain Matt Duggan fail in an attempt to overturn a three week suspension for a dangerous throw, it was a gutsy win by the Minor Premiers. It was a controversial decision which could have derailed Wattles Premierships aspirations but under the guidance of Travis Burns Wattles rose to the challenge.
Burns stepped into the halfback role and his contribution to the win cannot be understated. He played a hand in two tries and scored a spectacular try in what was undisputedly a man of the match performance.
The Wattles forwards deserve much of the praise. Led by Dale Perkins they laid the foundation for the win. Wattles had to play at their best to book their place in the big dance and opened the scoring with a converted penalty. However it was Highfields that had all the early running taking an early 10-2 lead after tries to Denzel Burns and Conor Nolan.
Wattles lost star Mitch Konia to a dislocated shoulder after 11 minutes and was a spectator for the remainder of the game.
Wattles dug deep and in the space of five minutes Burns set up two tries for Tye Gardener to level the scores at 10 all. Burns added the extras to give Wattles a 12-10 lead.
After another successful penalty conversion Wattles snuck ahead 14-10. In the shadows of half time Highfield’s Denzel Brown made it a double and levelled the scores. Jared Lee converted right on half time to give Highfields a 16-14 lead at the break. The game anyone’s to win or lose in the second half.
Burns certainly showed he is a player for the big occasion playing arguably his best game of the season. Five minutes into the second half he dived over for a try and the successful conversion swung the game back in Wattles favour. It was the first of three Wattles tries with Green and Gaulton in quick succession. Not only was Burns kicking in general play creating problems but he certainly brought his kicking boots and his successful conversion rate gave his side a 32-16 lead midway through the second half.
Highfields have been the inform club of the finals and they were never going to give up. Jared Lee scored and converted his own try to narrow the margin to 32-22. There was a sense of a grandstand finish as both teams raided the each other’s try line only to be turned away by desperate defence.
A try to Hargraves broke the deadlock and gave Wattles a 16 point buffer with six minutes left on the clock.
Highfields threw everything at their opponents trying to get back into the game and late tries to Ingersole and Loxley narrowed the margin to 38-32 but despite their late charge the siren beat them.
Highfields managed to keep Jackson Green, the Webcke Price Medallist quiet in the first half but he stamped some authority with a good individual try in the second half.
There was no surprise when Burns was named Hutchies Player of the Match after a dominant performance and although after the game he was full of praise for his forward pack and team mates there was no doubt about the value of his contribution to the win.
Wattles 38 (Ty Gardner 2 Travis Burns, Jackson Green, Nathan Gaulton, Jake Hargreaves tries Travis Burns 7 goals)
Highfields 32 (Denzel Burns 2, Conor Nolan, Tom Ingersole, Sean Loxley, Jarred lee tries Jarred Lee 4 goals)
And so it is on to the main even this weekend when the top TRL protagonists meet in the grand final many were hoping for.
If previous clashes are any yardstick, this is sure to be a high class encounter with no quarter given. The game kicks off at 2.00pm at finals headquarters Glenholme Park following the grand finals of the other three grades.
Reserve Grade: Gatton v Pittsworth (1.15pm)
Under 18: Highfields v South’s (11.30am)
Second Division: Warwick v Pittsworth (10.00am)
TRL GRANDFINAL TRIVIA
Since 1919 Valleys have won 35 Premierships
Since 1967 Wattles have won 4 Premierships