Newcastle rugby: Hamilton overcome gallant Merewether to earn shot at fourth straight premiership

TWO-TRY HERO: Joe Akkersdyk helped steer Hamilton to a 36-28 win over Merewether in the major semi-final.
TWO-TRY HERO: Joe Akkersdyk helped steer Hamilton to a 36-28 win over Merewether in the major semi-final.

HAMILTON will be gunning for a fourth straight Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union premiership after they ground out a dogged 36-28 win over Merewether in the major semi-final at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.

It has been 65 years since Cyril Burke led The Waratahs to their fourth consecutive title in 1953 – the last team to do so.

The Hawks earned their shot at history the hard way. They had three men spend time in the sinbin and had to absorb enormous pressure from a Greens outfit that kept coming.

After trailing 15-10 at half-time, Merewether hit the lead 23-22 with 15 minutes remaining.

But as they have done numerous times in their successful run, The Hawks found a way.

A beautifully executed play, with Laulala Kirosome coming from the right wing across the back of a ruck to collect an inside ball from captain Steve Lamont put them on the front foot. The winger was brought down 10m short, but three phases later Patty Killmurray crossed in the left corner.

Dane Sherratt added the extras from the sideline for 29-23.

In another twist, centre Sam Morgan was sent to the sinbin for a deliberate knockdown with eight minutes remaining.

The Greens took a tap and three phases later Ed Clifton crossed in the right corner. Sam Bright had a chance to regain the lead but hit the left post with his conversion.

The Hawks finally sealed the match on full-time when Tom Couple drove over from a maul.

“Full credit to Merewether, they turned up to play and kept going for 80 minutes,” Hamilton coach Scott Coleman said. “We had to defend for long periods. There is a lot that we can build on. To be honest, we were a bit disappointed in our performance, but the positive is that we are in a grand final. For the club to be a chance at a fourth straight premiership is a massive achievement.”

The first 15 minutes was all Hamilton. They asserted their authority at the set-piece, earning penalties from the opening three scrums.

Dane Sherratt landed a penalty goal and Joe Akkersdyk produced neat footwork to cross beside the posts as the Hawks jumped to a 10-0 lead.

However, Merewether managed to fight their way back. The Hawks lost prop Pete Bakarich and Sam McNeil to the sinbin in quick succession. It was the start of seven straight penalties to the Greens.

Akkersdyk, Lamont and Killmurray were outstanding for the Hawks.

Strachan and Bright were dangerous for the Greens and Jarome Wilson and James Sneddon did a power of work.