Queensland Country booked themselves a spot in the NRC Grand Final in Fiji next weekend after overpowering the Western Force in a monsoonal semi-final on the Gold Coast.
After the game began in bright sunshine, a huge storm rolled in and the match was even suspended for ten minutes in the second half for player safety due to lightning strikes nearby.
Queensland Country led when the game was paused and the Force scored almost straight after they resumed.
But any hopes the lightning break could spark a come-from-behind win by the Force were short-lived, with the hosts managing to play the difficult conditions much better overall.
Country stretched their lead in the last quarter to seal the win.
The Queensland Country men will have a chance to win back-to-back NRC titles next week when they head to Suva for the decider, and if the weather is anything like it was on the Gold Coast – and there is every chance in Fiji – then the Queenslanders can be confident they’ve got a game to do it.
Led by the smart kicking game of Hamish Stewart and pressure defence, Country played the territory game and while their forwards were the more dominant in contact, the Force chose the wrong day to melt down in the lineout.
After being so ruthless with their power game all year, the WA men couldn’t secure nearly enough possession at their set-pieces to build sustained pressure and and a lead on the scoreboard.
Being reduced to 13 men via two yellow cards in the first half didn’t help the Force either.
The Queenslanders had jumped out to an early lead when Wallaby-in-waiting teenage centre Jordan Petaia scored in the opening minute.
Force winger Rod Davies was sin-binned for throwing a punch soon after, and things got worse when referee Damon Murphy reached for the pocket again to bin Jack McGregor for a cynical foul on his own tryline.
The lack of numbers in the backline made for wide open spaces and Caleb Timu scooted blind from a scrum to score again.
Petaia grabbed a second soon after but the Force did well to hold the damage to only two tries, and Stewart’s poor day with the goalkicking boots meant the visitors were able to claw their way back.
Some sustained possession saw Brad Lacey score a nice slicing try in the 27th minute, but Country replied with a try to Chris Feauai-Sautia minutes later; coming after a clever kick by Duncan Pauiaua and a brilliant pick up from CFS.
The Force looked almost unstoppable when they turned to their rolling maul, and Heath Tessman scored in the 35th minute on the tail on that train. The score was 20-14 at the halftime break and still anyone’s game.
With the storm’s arrival though, conditions changed swiftly and the Queenslanders were quicker to adapt.
They kicked long and sweated on Force turnovers.
Reserve prop Harry Hoopert – one of the many impressive young finds in the Country squad – barged over from close range to extend the lead again.
Murphy pulled the teams from the field in the 52nd minute due to NRC officials enacting a player safety protocol but with the storm moving away, they were back on within 10 minutes.
The Force went straight back on attack and by finally managing to build some good field position, prop Harry Lloyd scored from less than a metre.
Country had only a slender three-point lead and it was game on.
But as they’ve done all year, the Queensland side turned to their superstar Felipo Daugunu to make an impact and he deilvered.
Combining brilliantly with the impressive Tate McDermott, Daugunu and the halfback both handled twice in a breakaway play that defied the slippery condiotions and put 18-year-old flanker Tom Kibble away for a try-of-the-year contender.
Stewart then stepped up and kept the Force pinned in their own half, kicking almost every ounce of possession.
Needing to score points, the Force tried to work their way back but handling and the threat of 2-metre youngsters Harry Hockings and Angus Blyth at the lineout stifled their game.
Penalties pushed the lead out further and Angus Scott-Young scored a final try at the siren to seal the Queensland Country victory.
They push on for one more match but after a busy season, the Force’s year came to an end. It was undoubtedly a succesful one, with the likes of Brynard Stander, Andrew Deegan, Tevin Ferris, Fergus Lee-Warner, Ian Prior, Jack McGregor and Rod Davies all showing superb form.