Lakes will meet Souths in a Newcastle Rugby League grand final for the first time in 30 years after the minor premiers ran out convincing winners over fifth-placed Kurri Kurri at Townson Oval on Sunday.
The Seagulls booked a spot in this year’s decider with a strong second-half performance, scoring 26 straight points after the main break en route to a 38-16 preliminary final victory against the Bulldogs.
This result brought an end to Kurri’s fairytale run into the finals series and six-game winning streak while for Lakes it turned around last weekend’s major semi loss at home to upcoming opponents Souths.
“It’s really good to get an opportunity to have that last crack,” Lakes coach Todd Edwards said.
“We worked hard for it and we had to do it the hard way, going through the back door [after losing last week].
“But we’ve got no injuries and we’re there. You’d rather be there than not.”
There was plenty of feeling between the sides on what was a chilly afternoon in Merewether, lined by a strong southerly wind, and tensions threatened to boil over on several occasions during the 80 minutes.
An incident involving several players coming together on the far side of the field was put on report midway through the second half, but no other further action was taken by referee Tom Taylor.
Two plays later a tackle on Lakes hooker Daniel Peck was put on report, seemingly for a high shot by Kurri dummy-half Tom McKenzie.
Bulldogs lock Mitch Cullen was sent to the sin-bin with six minutes remaining.
Regardless of those heated exchanges, Edwards described the showing by Lakes as “one of our best all year”.
“All things considered and into a southerly breeze, it was pretty tough,” he said. “So to put 26 on them and they only score with 10 seconds left, was a fair effort.”
The first-half was evenly contested and Lakes prop Kodie Charles provided highlights at either end of the field within the space of two minutes.
With the Seagulls up 4-0 in the 15th minute, Charles cut down runaway Kurri centre Ngangarra Barker in what seemed like a certain try before barging over himself next to the sticks.
“That was a massive play,” Edwards said.
“A front-rower doesn’t run down an outside back. He had no right too. He could have got in his slippers and run down the middle there and thought that’s someone else’s job, but that’s not what this group is about.”
Kurri hit back courtesy of back-to-back tries, both laid on by pivot Jarom Haines, via winger Barry McGrady and Barker to make it 10-all.
Lakes winger Toa Mata’Afa slotted a penalty on the stroke of half-time for a 12-10 advantage.
The Seagulls then scored five tries in-a-row, including one to outstanding skipper Shaun Boss and an excellent solo effort from centre Josh Charles.
Lakes last played Souths on grand final day in 1988.
PRELIMINARY:Kurri’s dream finally comes to an end
It was the last of three straight deciders between the clubs, starting in 1986. Lakes won the first two encounters and Souths the third.
The fourth and only other top-two showdown between Lakes and Souths was in 1968. Souths beat Lakes 9-6.