The Bega Roosters have claimed the Group 16 Minor Premiership with a tough 26-20 victory over the Moruya Sharks at Ack Weyman Oval on Saturday.
The Roosters scored the final two tries in a tough, physical matchup to snatch the win, and drop the Moruya Sharks to third spot on the ladder.
The home side opened the scoring early, as halfback Gavin Olive charged over from dummy half to give the Sharks a 4-0 lead.
That would be Olive’s last meaningful contribution to the game, as he was carried off with a potentially serious knee injury shortly afterwards.
Bega took advantage of the reshuffle, scoring tries through Scott Galeano and Hayden Parbery to take a 10-4 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Sharks hit back before half time however, as prolific outside backs Caine Brierley and Shaun Staples scored late tries to give the home side a 14-10 lead at half time.
The two sides came out of the sheds with intent, as the first 10 minutes of the second half were marked by a number of big hits and strong carries.
The arm-wrestle was broken by the Roosters’ Zach Cuzner, who ran away for a try after a Sharks’ handling error. James Bower-Scott converted the try to give the Roosters a 16-14 lead.
The Sharks hit back three minutes later, as Jacob Zutt charged through the defensive line to score next to the posts.
The Sharks held the lead until the last 15 minutes, but some tired defence allowed Bega hooker Hayden Parbery to race away for his second try. Bower-Scott’s conversion was waved away, leaving the two sides locked up with 12 minutes to play.
Zach Cuzner landed the telling blow with 10 minutes remaining, as he beat Caine Brierley to a grubbering kick, and raced 90 metres to score the winning try.
Roosters captain/coach Ryan Apps said the game was the perfect warm up for finals.
“That was the most physical game I’ve played all year,” he said. “Credit to Moruya, they had a really good pack, and put it to us all game.
“The top five are so close this season, you’ve got to turn up and play your best footy to win.
“We ground it out today, and probably got a couple of lucky bounces, but that’s footy.
“We’ve still got things to work on, but credit to my boys for their effort today.”
The Roosters will now enjoy the first-week bye, which will help with a few injuries picked up against the Sharks.
“The week off will do us a lot of good,” Apps said. “Especially after such a physical game today, it’ll give us a chance to recover.”
Sharks captain Tim Weyman said the bounce of the ball went against his side.
“If the bounce goes the other way a couple of times, we probably score,” he said. “The bounce of the ball is one of the great things about rugby league, and today it went their way, and they were good enough to take advantage.”
Weyman is confident heading into next weekend’s qualifying final against the Bombala Blue Heelers.
“We went up there last time and beat them, so we’re pretty confident,” he said. “It’s always a hard game, but I think we can get the job done.”