NSW Gen Blue will meet the Queensland Reds U20s at Ballymore in the Super U20s Championship final next week, after a nail-biting 41-35 win over the Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
They led for just four minutes in the match, but that was all NSW needed to clinch the crucial victory and end the Rebels’ chances of 2017 Super U20s silverware.
Rebels halfback Harrison Goddard had the first points in the fourth minute and it took just seven more for prop Mahe Vailanu to go over after his forwards tested the Gen Blue defence with repeated pick and drives, and they stretched their lead to 10 points.
A clearance kick went out on the full giving Gen Blue with an opportunity to bounce back and halfback Theo Strang’s linebreak put the visitors in a dangerous position, but a final pass from Harry Johnson-Holmes hurdled over the touch line to ease pressure momentarily.
Gen Blue got over the line through slick play, only for winger James Ramm to drop the ball trying to put it down with one hand, though he was let off by the fact the referee was playing advantage.
After three consecutive penalties Gen Blue put it through the hands to dynamic outside centre Esera Chee Kam who beat a handful of defenders, carrying two of them over the line in a powerful 10 metre run, whittling the margin down to three points.
The Rebels hit straight back, with a lineout steal resulting in a 30 metre run down the right edge from Vailanu, who passed to hooker Jordan Uelese to crash over in the corner and give them an eight-point gap at the half-hour mark.
Ramm kept Gen Blue in touch, making the Rebels pay with a penalty goal from right in front but Melbourne winger Hayden Sargeant got his side further on the front foot with a dashing 40 metre run to score in the corner.
Ramm made up for his initial blemish, with the first of two tries coming off a break and dummy and finishing with a secure grounding, making the half-time score 20-15 in favour of the home side.
The Rebels started the second half like they did the first, as centre Sione Tuipulotu read the play beautifully for an intercept try, running 60 metres to score under the posts and make it a 12-point game.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors with number eight Max Girdler sent to the bin for dangerous play from the restart.
The Rebels made them pay almost immediately, as slick hands and good execution saw Ben Collins finish off a brilliant kick return in the corner.
Gen Blue were next to score with flanker Lachlan Swinton crashing over from close range and it wasn’t long before they were in again, through Ramm’s second.
NSW prop Cody Walker crashed over to make it a one-point game with 13 minutes to go and some slick feet from substitute Daniel Broadman put Edward King away to clinch the lead for the first time.
Gen Blue managed to hold off the Rebels in the tense closing stages, setting up a grand final date with their northern rivals.
Melbourne Rebels U20s 35
Tries: Vailanu, Uelese, Sargeant, Tuipulotu, Collins
Cons: Goddard 2
Pens: Goddard 2
NSW Gen Blue 41
Tries: Ramm 2, Chee Kam, Swinton, Walker, King
Cons: Ramm 4