NEWCASTLE representative coach Paul Skovgaard praised his side’s patience in overcoming a 7-1 penalty count to keep their Country Rugby League divisional championship defence alive.
The Rebels defeated Central Coast 36-20 in their semi-final at Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday and will face Canberra in the decider at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan on June 30.
The ACT boys defeated Northern Rivers 22-12 in the other semi-final.
If Newcastle are to claim back-to-back titles, Skovgaard said they could not afford to present a Canberra side, coached by former Raiders stars Simon Woolford and Jason Croker, with a lopsided penalty count.
At half-time on Saturday, Central Coast led the penalties 6-0, but were still behind 12-6 on the scoreboard.
The Rebels sole penalty from referee Chris Treneman came in the 80th minute for offside which brought a Bronx cheer from the Newcastle bench and supporters in the stands.
‘‘He [Treneman] gave them a massive leg-up in the first half,’’ Skovgaard said.
‘‘To think a team is that clean and didn’t make any mistakes for 79 minutes was pretty incredible.
‘‘I said to them that we’re going to come up against calls [like that] and it’s how you respond to the challenge of having to defend and that’s what makes you a better team. ‘‘To their credit they didn’t whinge about it and we were lucky enough to keep them out.’’
The selection of Western Suburbs centre Steve Gordon might have surprised some as he only returned from a long suspension in round four.
But Gordon’s elusiveness created the opening try for Jacob Sinclair before Central Coast equalised through the weight of penalties when prop Luke McInnes scored a converted try.
Just before half-time, classy Cessnock hooker Terence Seu Seu took control of the match.
His dummy and sleight-of-hand pass from dummy half produced tries for Dan Metcalf and Jesse Royal either side of the break.
Former Canterbury second-rower Jamie Feeney crossed to keep the Central Coast in touch, but as the amount of possession evened out the Rebels’ superior class shined.
Rebels substitute Billy Towers scored off a knocked-on bomb from Coast fullback Grant Nelson then five-eighth Riley Brown showed off his sidestep to send over his captain Sam Wooden. The two tries killed off the contest at 30-10 after 64 minutes.
‘‘We haven’t had many training sessions together due to the wet weather so the first half was a bit scratchy,’’ Wooden said. ‘‘But in the second half we clicked and got a few combos going together.’’
Rebels second-rower Beau Simpson injured his hamstring in the match and is expected to be the only player in doubt for the final.