Central North Rugby: Pirates stave off gallant challenge from Walcha to win qualifying final

Pirates coach Mat Kelly was again proclaiming his side’s character after they defeated a plucky Walcha 24-18 in Saturday’s qualifying final to land a second successive home grand final.

It was another colossal contest, with the defending champions forced to dig deep, as they did when the sides met three weeks ago.

First, they had to claw their way back after the Rams made a blistering start, and then they had to hold out a Rams side who was unrelenting to the final whistle.

“We had to do it the hard way,” Kelly said.

It capped off a big week for him after he welcomed a son on Wednesday, but it was a roller coaster ride on the sidelines on Saturday.

“They [Walcha] were always in it,” he said.

The Rams came out firing. A neat grubber from Simon Newton sat up perfectly for a flying Dom Bower to score. Minutes later Ed Churchill split Pirates’ defence open to send Bower away.

Pirates’ defence scrambled to deny him. But following in support, Newton scooped up the ball to put the visitors up 10-nil after 15 minutes.

“They really showed their pace out wide and caught us out a couple of times,” Kelly said.

Steadily Pirates began to regather ground, and Ben Goodman picked and drove to score in his 150th game.

That was the home side’s first real opportunity in good field position, with them showing good patience to just keep punching at the Walcha line and close the gap to five points at half-time.

“I thought with the wind we were lucky to only be five points behind at half-time,” Kelly said.

“The wind had a few more points in it than that.”

Turning with the wind behind them in the second half, Simon Trappel got Pirates on level terms with a try eight minutes into the second half. His brother James added the extras to put them two points in front.

When Jack Shelton twisted his way over the tryline minutes later, the momentum looked to be well and truly with Pirates.

The Rams dragged three points back but then fumbled the kick receive, handing possession straight back to Pirates. And as their scrum dominance really started to take hold, James Trappel extended their lead to 11.

Always a threat with ball in hand, the Rams hit back. Ed Cordingley instigated a scintillating 70m try-scoring effort to make it a six-point game with just over 10 minutes to play.

Kelly praised his sides ability to adjust their game on the run.

“We went away from plan A and had to go to plan C and D,” he said.

The Rams again showed that Pirates are fallible and played some exhilarating football. But they were unable to close it out.

The scrum played a big role in that, Walcha co-coach Barry Hoy said.

“They pushed us around and that cost us a lot of ball and field position,” he said.

But Hoy couldn’t have been happier with how the Rams started the match.

“It was going good there for a while,” he said, adding that Pirates gained the ascendancy early in the second half.

“We started standing off their players and let them get their pods set,” he said.

“We needed to disrupt their ruck more.”

Once Pirates got their nose in front, it was always going to be tough for Walcha.

But it didn’t help that they didn’t have a lot of ball.