Bizarre history behind Pride, Tigers decider
An injured cheerleader that delayed the kick-off, 74 minutes without a try being scored, a total of 15 points scored in the entire game and two coaches who were just waiting for the game to break wide open: The Major Semi-Final between the Northern Pride and Easts Tigers had it all.
The Pride booked their place in Sunday's Intrust Super Cup Grand Final at Suncorp Stadium with the unlikely final scoreline of 8-7 in that Major Semi-Final with Easts earning a rematch with a convincing win over Wynnum Manly in the Preliminary Final last weekend.
Both teams are primed to go to battle once again for the ultimate prize and a trip to Sydney to play in the NRL State Championship but even the bravest of punters couldn't predict a repeat of what transpired a fortnight ago.
Having finished the season as minor premiers, the Pride absorbed early Tigers pressure and scored in the sixth minute to set up a 6-0 lead, a lead that lasted just 20 minutes before the Tigers levelled at 6-all.
Rabbitohs-bound halfback Cody Walker gave Easts a one-point advantage with a field goal 15 seconds from half-time but when the two teams returned for the second half all the points they could find was a penalty goal to Pride five-eighth Shaun Nona.
There were frantic pieces of play and missed field goal attempts by the Tigers as they endeavoured to level the scores again late in the piece but the scoreline remained unchanged.
"I was sitting there in the stand thinking, It's not going to finish at 7-6 and then It's not going to finish at 8-7 but it certainly did," recalls Tigers coach Craig Ingebrigtsen.
"With 20 minutes to go I thought the game was going to open up and there would be two or three tries in it but that didn't happen and we certainly learnt a lot out of that."
"I started to relax a bit with 10 to go," says Pride coach Jason Demetriou. "We started to defend really well and completed a few sets but you're always still worried that a penalty or a drop goal – Cody Walker had two shots that went pretty close which could have taken it into extra-time – but thankfully that didn't happen."
Tigers front-rower Steven Thorpe and Pride prop Ricky Thorby were two players immersed in the slug-fest in the centre of Barlow Park and both conceded that they were waiting for the game to break open as the clock wound down.
"As the game was going I said, 'It can't keep going at this pace, it can't keep being this physical,' but it just didn't stop," Thorpe tells NRL.com. "It went for the whole 80 minutes and both sides really wanted it and it worked out that they got away with it on the night. It was a good game to play in, we needed that kind of game and it got us a bit hardened for the week after.
"We started to realise what needed to be done to win a semi-final and a grand final, that little bit of extra effort, that's how it was going to be from Wynnum and now the Pride in the Grand Final and we all know what it's going to take to get over the line this weekend."
Adds Thorby: "I thought they were going to break us open because we kept giving them too much ball, I wasn't sure how long we could keep defending for. I was hoping we were going to break away with it so that it would get a bit easier but that's footy. It's an 80-minute game and we were lucky to come away with the win.
"We did a lot of things that we don't normally do. Our completion rate was poor, our kicks were poor, our errors were poor and everything we were doing was just poor but the main thing was that we managed to come away with the win and we stuck with them. That was something that we were really proud of."
Demetriou conceded that having failed to make the Grand Final despite finishing minor premiers 12 months earlier that anxiousness crept into his side's play but expects a more Pride-like performance in the decider.
"I think we were quite anxious with what happened last year going into the game and just wanted to get over that hurdle. Now that we've done that it should relax us a little bit and allow us to play a bit better footy," he said.
"I don't think it was nerves, it was just that they really wanted to achieve it and they were chasing it a little bit rather than going through the processes that we had done all year. We pushed passes that we didn't need to push and we came up with 15 or so errors which was a credit to the boys that they managed to hang on but it was lucky that Easts made plenty of errors as well. Both teams will be a lot better this weekend."
The opposition coach is similarly confident of an improved performance from his men and believes that the Tigers learned enough in defeat to reverse the result when it matters on Sunday.
"I know that we turned up for each other really well under the footy and we filled space and we closed them down a lot because they're a great attacking footy side," Ingebrigtsen said. "I was really happy with that part of our game.
"We've got to score points to beat them so we'll be coming up with a few different ideas this week to try and beat them.
"Defensively I think we're one of the best teams in the comp and that's what frustrates them. They don't like being turned away so if you defend well against them they get a bit frustrated and we've got to set a standard right from the start.
"We've got to defend well, we've got to get numbers to the tackle and we've got to win the ruck and if we do that and don't allow them to play with a lot of width then we're a fair chance."
The Intrust Super Cup Grand Final between the Northern Pride and Easts Tigers kicks off at 3.55pm at Suncorp Stadium and is live throughout Queensland on Channel Nine.