Magic touches from winger Mark Nawaqanitawase and shrewd wet-weather rugby from Eastwood have transformed the shape of the Shute Shield finals.
The Woods’ well-deserved 29-20 upset of Eastern Suburbs on Sunday at Pittwater Rugby Park kept the club alive for next weekend’s grand final qualifiers.
The result also produced a stunning spin-off with two-time defending premiers Sydney University now eliminated from the finals.
Under this year’s format, the three winners of the preliminary finals advance to the final four but also a lucky loser with the highest finish from the minor premiership.
Your 2020 top 4 are secured ✅ FINAL 1 📍 @gordonrugby v @eastsrugby ⏰ 3.00pm AEDT 🗓 Sat 24 Oct 🏟 Rat Park 📺 LIVE on @cluchtv 📻 www.cluchradio.com FINAL 2 📍 @northsrugby v @eastwoodrugby ⏰ 3.00pm AEDT 🗓 Sun 25 Oct 🏟 Rat Park 📺 LIVE on @7twoau + @7plus 📻 www.cluchradio.com 📸 @kazwatson
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Once second-placed Easts were beaten, it meant curtains for fourth-placed Sydney Uni, who lost control of their own destiny with Saturday’s 24-22 tumble to Norths.
The Intrust Super Shute Shield is wide open with Gordon to meet Easts and Eastwood taking on Norths in next weekend’s sudden-death qualifiers to decide the grand final teams.
The Woods attacked the game with superior energy throughout and standouts like hooker Ed Craig influenced the forward battle with the most decisive plays.
From 15-all at the break, Eastwood took charge in the second half when five-eighth Tane Edmed’s smart kicking game dictated a big territory advantage with a wind behind him.
For the eye-popping attacking moments, NSW Waratahs finisher Nawaqanitawase was at his best.
At the seven-minute mark, fullback Chris Bell put up a high kick to the grandstand touchline from his own quarter.
Nawaqanitawase leapt high and gathered the kick with two less ball-focussed Easts players beside him.
In a blink, the Eastwood finisher was scooting 40m and putting centre Lachie Anderson over for a 10-0 start.
To Easts’ credit, Alex Newsome and Henry Paterson crossed to wrestle a 15-10 lead by midway through the first half but it was too little from the Beasties.
Waratahs centre Lalakai Foketi was a huge handful and Easts were at their most dangerous when he was running deceptively until his ball dried up.
He made breaks and his double-pump pass put Paterson over.
Craig showed all the influence that wooed the Queensland Reds into offering him a short-term contract.
Twice, he got his hands on Easts' ball at the ruck to earn penalties and his spinning, dumping crash tackle of fullback Dan Donato was UFC quality.
Nawaqanitawase wasn’t finished.
He ran in an intercepted pass from 60m out for 15-all and he auditioned for the ballet with his go-ahead touch.
He dabbed a bobbling ball deftly with his right boot soccer-style and it looked certain to be for an Anderson dot down on the inside.
The penalty try that was whistled had the same impact.
Fittingly, Craig sealed the preliminary final when the territory pressure told at a lineout close to the Easts’ tryline.
Rain was tumbling at this point and replacement Easts hooker Lindsey Stevens could only direct his throw to a messy Beasties' lineout into the bucket mits of Craig who caught the gift and scored.
Edmed’s poise was crucial for a young No.10 and a good defensive read to force a turnover on Foketi was another sign of his class.
EASTWOOD 29 (E Craig, M Nawaqanitawase, L Anderson tries; penalty try; T Edmed 2 con, pen goal) defeated EASTS 20 (A Newsome, H Paterson, R Woolf tries: D Donato con, pen goal)