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Gungahlin v Wests, Viking Park, Wanniassa
Round 14: Gungahlin 40 defeated Wests 34 at Jamison Oval
Gungahlin and Wests square off for the right to face Tuggeranong in next weekend’s decider after a fiercely contested opening weekend of the finals series.
Gungahlin would be rueing opportunities not taken in the 23-12 Major Semi Final loss to Tuggeranong, resulting in an appearance in the sudden death Preliminary Final for the second year on the trot. After opening the scoring through winger Lindsay Crook within the first five minutes, the Eagles then had the weight of possession and territory for a lot of the first half but could not add to their score through numerous turnovers. It was a similar story in the second half with the Vikings proving to be the better side at taking their opportunities and ran out deserved winners. Flanker Ruitikha Ilolahia was amongst the best for the Eagles and on the ground, with several powerful runs and being a constant menace at the breakdown. Coach Owen Finegan has named an unchanged forward pack for this big match but has shuffled the backline around in an attempt to find a winning formula. Matt Hawke has gone back to his more familiar position at fullback, with Lindsay Crook moving back into the centres. James Lovell moves onto the wing from fullback.
Wests earned the opportunity to venture to Viking Park for another week courtesy of a lucky escape against Royals in the Minor Semi Final last Sunday. The Lions were the first to score in the opening ten minutes through Captain Aaron McInnes, but from there Royals got their way on top of their opponents. Newly crowned Macdougall Medal winner Soakai Tai had another barnstorming game, as did fullback Ben Johnson who made several decisive runs and scored two great tries. His second of the match had the royal blues looking comfortable in the lead at 24-13 with ten minutes remaining until disaster struck. Winger Jack Sutton was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle and the Lions sparked into gear, taking full advantage of the additional man. Firstly fly half Gus McKercher put flying winger Tom Ruediger away to score under the posts to take the score to 24-20. Then with only a few minutes remaining centre Pama Fou finished off a sweeping backline move to take Wests to the lead amongst jubilant scenes from the Lions supporters. Scott McLean comes in to the side this week in the second row and Luke Roughton onto the flank in the only changes to Craig Robberd’s side.
This is likely to be a high scoring and entertaining encounter between these sides that controlled the top of the ladder for the majority of the season if their previous encounters are anything to go by. Wests were victorious 26-21 in Round 7, and Gungahlin turned the tables in Round 14, prevailing 40-34. The encounter up front and which side demonstrates the most steel in defence will be vital to the result, as both backlines are capable of putting on a number of points if given space move. A thrilling game is expected with the prize of a shot at John I Dent glory in a week’s time up for grabs.
Also being contested on Saturday afternoon is the Second Division Grand Final
Second Division Grand Final – Saturday 3 September 2011
Bungendore v Crookwell
Venue - Mick Sherd Oval, Bungendore
Referee: Rob Whyte