Bond University’s first visit to the finals is the real deal after every fibre of composure was needed to end the season of 2018 premiers GPS.
Winning 32-27 in the knockout semi-final at Ballymore doesn’t even begin to tell the full story of this Sunday nailbiter in the AllSports Physiotherapy Hospital Challenge Cup.
The Bullsharks had clawed back 8-0, 22-13 and 27-25 deficits to finally lead 32-27 with 10 minutes to play thanks to a try from livewire halfback Liam Dillon.
With four minutes to play, GPS won a penalty 10m out directly in front of the Bond goalposts.
Three scrums and three penalty advantages were whistled to Jeeps in the tense minutes that followed as time expired.
Last play. It was glory or bust for Jeeps.
On the first penalty, standout No.8 Ratu Vio Batibasaga took a quick tap and surged to the line looking every twitch like he’d scored his third try of the day.
Somehow, three yellow and black jerseys held him up.
From the next scrum, the ball was spun wide to replacement winger Abele Atunaisa, the powerful batteship who lined up the corner.
Slender Rhian Stowers stalled him low and centre Ryan Menzies shunted him into touch as he planted the ball.
From the next scrum, fellow GPS winger Josh Collins was bundled into touch. Saved again!
On the final scrum, the Bond eight made the decisive contact, the set piece swivelled and referee Damon Murphy whistled the penalty to the underdogs.
Hooker Nick Turner, the old head in the pack, was ecstatic. He'd lived the bad days of the club in their patchy rise out of a partnership with the old Gold Coast Breakers for the 2014 season.
This Bond outfit deserves rich credit.
Dillon outplayed Queensland Reds halfback Scott Malolua, South African gym junkie-cum-lock Devon Henson excelled, five-eighth Mitch Third was a cool controller, Reds lock Angus Blyth was a grinning force and young prop Zane Nongorr stood tall for 80 minutes.
When GPS winger Jono Kent strolled over untouched from a well-worked play off a scrum at the 10-minute mark for 8-0, it looked like the favourites would have their way.
No one told the Bullsharks.
Dillon engineered a pass to put flying winger Max Dowd over and it was game on.
Vio was superb with the strongest ball-carries on the field and three Bond defenders couldn’t keep him out when he charged over for 27-25.
“We’re not in the finals to make up the numbers and the forwards did an incredible job being physical and giving the backs the chance to play some of the expansive footy we love,” Bond Uni skipper Dan Boardman said.
Added coach Grant Anderson: “I was really happy with the effort in defence on our line in the second half and that final scrum was huge.
"I'll say it again, Liam Dillon is the best non-contracted player in Queensland."
It took big plays. Henson, a Perth-born South African who only landed at the club this year, splintered off a rolling maul to score just after half-time and veteran Turner twisted over from another lineout drive.
With 10 minutes on the clock, Dillon took his shot. He dummied from the ruckbase and scooted 20m for the final score.
Bond will take on minor premiers Easts at Ballymore on Sunday for the right to meet University of Queensland in the grand final.
BOND UNIVERSITY 32 (M Dowd, G Henson, N Turner, L Dillon tries; M Third 3 con, 2 pen goals) defeated GPS 27 (R Vio Batibasaga 2, J Kent, J Collins tries: AJ Alatimu 2 con, pen goal)