Newcastle rugby: Greens stay on track as Two Blues exit

SO NEAR BUT YET SO FAR: Wanderers captain Luke Simmons misses a last-minute conversion attempt, leaving scores locked at 22-all with Nelson Bay. The Two Blues hence bowed out of the finals. Picture: Stewart Hazell
SO NEAR BUT YET SO FAR: Wanderers captain Luke Simmons misses a last-minute conversion attempt, leaving scores locked at 22-all with Nelson Bay. The Two Blues hence bowed out of the finals. Picture: Stewart Hazell

MICK Gill has delivered the same message to the Merewether players for the past four weeks.

He is not about to change the script now.

Fly-half Sam Bright landed a long-range penalty in the dying seconds to snatch the Greens a 31-29 triumph over Maitland in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union qualifying semi-final at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.

Next are minor premiers Hamilton. Another win would book Merewether a ticket to their first grand final since 2012.

“For the past four weeks we have been talking about turning up Tuesday and getting better,” Gill said. 

“Regardless of who we are playing, the attitude is that we have to get better. 

“We have another two sessions this week and we have to get better as a football side.”

MATCH WINNER: Merewether celebrate after Sam Bright kicked a late penalty to snatch a 31-29 win over Maitland in the qualifying semi-final at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday. Pictures: Marina Neil

MATCH WINNER: Merewether celebrate after Sam Bright kicked a late penalty to snatch a 31-29 win over Maitland in the qualifying semi-final at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday. Pictures: Marina Neil

Merewether’s win over the Blacks was their second against them for second for the season. Yet much of the talk in recent weeks has pointed to a Maitland-Hamilton grand final. The Greens’ nine-game winning start the campaign has seemingly been dismissed.

“We know what we can do as a football side,” Gill said. 

“It has been mentioned that no-one rates us. We just do our thing. 

“If people want to write us off, good luck to them.”

The Greens had to dig deep against the Blacks.

Maitland led 15-7 early and 22-20 midway through the second half.

HARD YARDS: Maitland centre Carl Manu runs through the Merewether defence.

HARD YARDS: Maitland centre Carl Manu runs through the Merewether defence.

In a see-sawing affair, Bright landed a penalty to put Merewether ahead 23-22 before a try stretched the margin to 28-22.

However, with six minutes remaining, Maitland fly-half Pat Batey charged down a Bright kick and ran 40 metres to score a converted try. 

“It could have been the end for us but the boys stayed in the game, won the ball back from the restart and managed to squeeze out a penalty,” Gill said. 

“To bounce back with six minutes to go … that is what semi-finals are about.”

Maitland co-coach Mick Hickling was disappointed with the loss, but more so the way his team played.

“We put ourselves in good field position but then made errors and didn’t get points,” he said. “We thought we could have played better. 

“We didn’t produce our best performance on a pretty big occasion.”

WRAPPED UP: Merewether breakaway Jarome Wilson is swarmed in a tackle.

WRAPPED UP: Merewether breakaway Jarome Wilson is swarmed in a tackle.

The Blacks meet Nelson Bay in the minor semi-final at No.2 Sportsground on Sunday. 

“The chat in the dressing room was about putting the loss behind us,” Hickling said.

“We earned ourselves a second bite of the cherry by finishing second.”

On Sunday, Wanderers bowed out in heart-breaking circumstances when skipper Luke Simmons missed a last-minute conversion attempt, leaving scores locked at 22-all with Nelson Bay.

The draw meant that Nelson Bay, as higher qualifiers, survived for at least another week.

Trailing 22-17, Wanderers conjured up a miraculous try for winger Jack Lewsley, but Simmons was off-target with his kick to win the game and keep their season alive.