Brisbane Club Rugby: Miracle on the hooter sets up GPS v Uni grand final

Sun, 29/08/2021, 10:01 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie spoke to media from Perth.

Flyhalf Jason Hofmeyr nailed a sideline conversion after the hooter to send a delirious GPS side to the grand final after a miracle 41-39 semi-final comeback.

The Gallopers were down and out, not once but twice, before wrestling the Sunday thriller from a Wests on a superb afternoon of Brisbane club rugby at Ashgrove.

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Three-try winger Ben Navosailagi and his Wests’ team-mates did almost everything right to qualify for their first grand final since 2006 until the late dream-killer.

Instead, it will be a GPS v University of Queensland premiership decider at Suncorp Stadium from 1pm (AEST) next Sunday.

The grand final will be broadcast live on Channel Nine and Stan Sport as the lead-in to the broadcast of the Wallabies-All Blacks Test in Perth from 4pm (AEST).

It was a supreme comeback from GPS after being down 10-0 after five minutes, 24-3 midway through the first half and 29-15 nearing the hour mark.

Wests led 39-34 with time up when Hofmeyr spun a long ball to the right wing where flanker Matt Gicquel was stationed to dive over.

Those deep in the crowd on the creek side of the field could not see whether he had scored or not but the beer cups, amber shower and noise was a giveaway.

It was a huge villain-turned-hero ending for Hofmeyr. The first half almost unfolded like he was Graeme Langlands in white boots in the 1975 Sydney rugby league grand final.

Hofmeyr wore flashy coloured boots which just made it easy to pick out that it was his kick being charged down for the Ilikena Vudogo try and a 24-3 deficit.

Flanker Gicquel is a beauty. He's one of the reasons professional rugby is so frustrating. He's a natural footballer, a demon at the breakdown and superb in the loose but always tagged too small even with more pure skills than Super Rugby backrowers.

“We always knew we had it in us. There was no panic at the end. Our system means we have backrowers hanging out wide and look what happens when we are patient,” delighted GPS captain Michael Richards said.

“That’s a brilliant kick from ‘Hof’. I was back on halfway with the boys preparing for 10 minutes of extra-time if it didn’t go over.”

Whitelock shoulder charges Ref

Wests played perfect rugby in the opening five minutes with speed and slick handling that belied the fact the team hadn’t played for four weeks because of COVID-19 cancellations.

Flyhalf Carter Gordon punched the ball up strongly to give the Bulldogs a platform and for the quickly spun ball to the right that put Navosailagi over for his first try.

That 10-0 jump was amplified to 17-3 when a Gordon cross-kick, under penalty advantage, was fumbled by GPS to hand Navosailagi his second.

It was hard to see a way back for GPS when the charge-down was brilliantly secured by Wests hooker Ethan Dobbins, who flipped it on to Vudoga.

At 24-3 down, it needed a GPS miracle. Two rumbling rolling maul tries to hooker Maile Ngauamo was the start.

Even then, Wests had the steel to convert a five-minute scrum-a-thon into a sharp blindside try for livewire halfback Joel Atkins.

At 29-15, the crowd of more than 2500 at GPS’ home ground at Ashgrove went strangely quiet.

This semi twisted like a snake with Wests down to 14 men via a yellow card. In the space of few minutes, GPS rushed on two tries, including a speedy special from winger Josh Collins. Then, came another. Suddenly, a 34-29 lead for GPS was on the scoreboard against all odds.

To the Bulldogs’ credit, they kept fighting for their season. Standout fullback Ilaisa Droasese burst through and fed Navosailagi for a go-ahead try with eight minutes to play. 39-34.

All the while, Wests centre Isaac Henry had been splitting the goalposts with a fine goalkicking day of six-from-seven.

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The Bulldogs had their late chance when stealing a lineout against the throw but a knock-on later in the play handed field position back to GPS for their clinical finish.

“It’s pretty devastating. The whole team is hurting right now because we felt we gave that 100 per cent all game,” Gordon said.

Playing the semi-finals of the Allsports Physiotherapy Hospital Challenge Cup at a suburban club ground was a soaring success. More than 4500 fans turned out across Saturday and Sunday. Eighteen tries were scored in two tense spectacles and the GPS Rugby Club handled the hosting with aplomb.

Having Super Rugby players like Melbourne Rebel Gordon committed to his club was a superb spin-off to this season.

He showed his class as did Henry and University’s Reds halfback Kalani Thomas over the weekend.

Now for the grand final.

GPS 41 (M Ngauamo 2, Matt Gicquel, J Collins, M Treleaven tries; penalty try; J Hofmeyr 3 con, pen goal) bt WESTS 39 (B Navosailagi 3, J Atkins, I Vudogo tries; I Henry 4 con, 2 pen goals)

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