University caused the upset of the season when they defeated South Darwin 26-25 in an epic Preliminary Final at Rugby Park on Saturday Night.
The Pirates advanced to their sixth Grand Final appearance in the last seven years where they will take on the high flying Casuarina Cougars next Saturday.
South’s opened the scoring with a penalty goal by fly half Keegan Neal three minutes into the match but the next thirty belonged to University.
Robert Butcher put Shaun Wauchope through a gap two minutes later and the centre crossed without a hand being placed on him.
From a penalty twelve minutes later Frank Jennings took a quick tap and caught the Rabbitohs defence napping to surge at the line to score.
Butcher had missed both conversions but the Pirates had a handy 10-3 lead.
Some great lead up by Poasa Raqiyawa and Shaun Ley set up a try for prop Jarn Inoke who was backing up in support.
Two penalty goals by Butcher had the Pirates up 23-3 and a huge boilover was unfolding before a boisterous crowd.
Souths had struggled to carry the ball into University territory and when Tim Atkinson found some space Henry Berns was able to score and the Rabbitohs went to the break trailing by fifteen.
Butcher missed two penalty goal attempts that could have shut the gate on Souths but the University defence was relentless until Thomas Hiramatsu scored twenty five minutes into the second half.
A minor scuffle after the try resulted in Hiramatsu and Ryan Oakley spending the next ten minutes in the side bin.
Whitmer Tuputala scored a try minutes later and with Atkinson’s conversion the Rabbitohs were well and truly back in the match trailing by 23-20 inside the last ten minutes left and full of momentum.
A Butcher penalty extended the lead to six with three to go and the Rabbitohs then through everything they could muster at the Pirates as clock ticked down.
Front Rower Hayden Summers stormed over for a try wide out all Souths needed was to convert to win the match.
Atkinson’s shot was wide much to the jubilation of the Pirates players and supporters.
It was the second week in succession that a missed goal kick after the siren had denied the Rabbitohs victory.
Souths were definitely not as sharp as they have been in recent week and were possibly drained mentally after their Semi Final loss last week.
University’s defence never waned and its pressure seemed to upset South’s rhythm.
The Pirates had been guilty of not protecting early advantages in matches against Souths during the regular season but their ball retention was exemplary and if they can back up next and play with the same mindset next week they will be no pushover in the Grand Final.
University 26: J Inoke, S Wauchope, F Jennings Tries R Butcher 1 Conv 3 Pen
South Darwin 25: T Hiramatsu, H Summers, W Tuputala, H Berns, Tries T Atkinson 1 Conv K Neal 1 Pen
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby.