RAIDERS WIN TORRID BATTLE
PRELIMINARY FINAL BETWEEN FIERCE RIVALS DOES NOT LET ANYBODY DOWN
PALMERSTON emerged on top from a typical war-of-attrition derby against fierce rivals Nightcliff, surging into the NRL NT A-grade premiership grand final against Northern Sharks with a 22-12 victory over the minor premiers.
It was yet another fiery encounter from the start between these two teams, both sides spending time deep in their opposition’s territory only to be met by solid defence.
Nightcliff’s outside backs Clint
Chettle, Jone Vakacegu and Robbie Butcher pushed and pushed, but each time they found themselves in Palmerston territory they were turned away. And for their part, the Raiders were met with the same intensity at the opposite end, with Matthew Johnson, Tevita Kanalagi and Will Beers putting in big runs but coming away empty-handed.
It was centre Johnson who finally broke the deadlock, breaking free from dummy-half, and from there it was all pace as he ran 70m to register the opening score.
Dragons looked to strike back almost immediately and looked likely, but for a handling error from Wise Sekitoga over the line.
And the Palmerston unit made full use of the opportunity, with Blake Fletcher kicking a high up-and-under which captain Alex Johnson got his hands on to score the second try.
But Dragons weren’t going to go into halftime with nothing to show for their efforts, pushing forth once more and this time coming away with a try as Zak Mott crashed over the line.
That effort inspired Nightcliff in the second half, with the side going back and forth deep in opposition territory, only missing out on a try for Chettle due to a forward pass.
But it was the Raiders who once again broke the deadlock with Johnson creating a strong platform which allowed Beers to score.
Matters seemed to go from bad to worse for Nightcliff as captain Brent Crisp was sent to the sin bin.
But they didn’t let that get to them, with Adam Hall muscling his way through three defenders to allow Sione Tongia to surge through for a try and put the Dragons right back into the contest.
The work of hooker Tom Murphy continued to pay dividends for Palmerston. In the final minutes it was his control that saw Joel Turaga score.
“All our hard work is finally starting to pay off and now we get another chance to play finals footy,” Alex Johnson said. “We’ve been peaking at the right time of year with some new players in the side.”
Nightcliff’s Robbie Butcher called the loss deflating after what had been an impressive year for the Dragons.