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REAL NRL: ‘Never-say-die’ Lions pip Goannas in a thriller


South Newcastle’s “never-say-die” attitude came to the fore in the Lions’ 28-22 comeback victory over the Cessnock Goannas at the weekend.

Many predicted the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) preliminary final would be a close affair at the Kurri Kurri Sportsground on Saturday 26 August.

And, that’s exactly what unfolded with the men in “red and white” setting up another showdown with the Maitland Pickers in the Denton Engineering Cup decider in seven days’ time at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Cessnock captain-coach Harry Siejka congratulates South Newcastle skipper Ryan Glanville. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Cessnock appeared to be in the box seat at 20-10 and again at 22-16, with 17 minutes left on the clock.

But, a game-ending injury to Goannas captain-coach Harry Siejka and Souths’ fighting spirit enabled the Lions to storm home to snatch a much-celebrated win.

The Andrew Ryan-mentored outfit started brilliantly, with skipper Ryan Glanville throwing a dummy and slicing through to score in the third minute. Although Mitch Black missed the conversion, the Merewether side led 4-0.

A few fiery exchanges ignited the atmosphere… and seemed to lift Cessnock.

Retiring prop Kori Barber was held up over the line, however the Goannas hit back soon after.

Cessnock Goannas winger Honeti Tuha finds the tryline on Saturday. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Siejka kicked on the fifth and winger Honeti Tuha leapt above the pack to reap the rewards. Sam Clune added the extras for a 6-4 lead.

A Clune penalty pushed Cessnock ahead 8-4.

Hooker Luke Huth then went dangerously close to scoring.

Within minutes, Clune floated a pass to Tuha, who powered over in the corner. Clune landed the goal from the sideline to extend the margin to 14-4, which remained until the break.

Souths lock Jack Welsh tries to push off Luke Huth at Kurri Kurri on Saturday. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

Souths needed to post first points after the interval… and they did.

Fullback Reeve Howard injected himself into the attack and left his opposite number Brayden Musgrove grasping at thin air. Black reduced the advantage to 14-10.

In the 49th minute, Brent Mendyk smashed his way through the defence metres from the tryline. Clune was on target again, restoring the supporters’ faith at 20-10.

Cessnock second-rower Wyatt Shaw limbers up before the showdown. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

The turning point then occurred when Siejka, one of the Goannas’ best, limped from the field and straight into the sheds.

With Cessnock still dealing with the setback, Lions’ “x-factor” Jarom Haines followed a downtown kick and regathered to touch down between the uprights. Black soon made it 20-16.

Another penalty to Clune gave the Goannas a bit of breathing space at 22-16.

Ryan Glanville was deemed the Player of the Match in Saturday’s preliminary final. Photo: Michael Gorton Images

With 10 minutes remaining, inspirational Glanville did it all himself to keep his side in the contest. When Black raised the flags, it was all locked up at 22-all.

Some smart work from Howard, who found Black in support, allowed Souths to regain the lead. The latter iced the cake for a thrilling 28-22 triumph, despite a late rally from Cessnock at the death.

Try as they might, the Goannas just couldn’t crack the resolute Lions again.

  • SOUTH NEWCASTLE LIONS 28 (Ryan Glanville 2, Reeve Howard, Jarom Haines, Mitch Black tries; Black 4 goals) defeated CESSNOCK GOANNAS 22 (Honeti Tuha 2, Brent Mendyk tries; Sam Clune 5 goals)

Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League

2023 play-offs:

Preliminary final results

  • Denton Engineering Cup: South Newcastle Lions d Cessnock Goannas 28-22
  • Reserve grade: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Cessnock Goannas 22-8
  • Under-19s: Western Suburbs Rosellas d Maitland Pickers 20-12

Grand final draw

Saturday 2 September

McDonald Jones Stadium

  • Gates open: 9.45am
  • Under-19s: 10.15am – Lakes United Seagulls v Western Suburbs Rosellas
  • Reserve grade: Noon – Maitland Pickers v Western Suburbs Rosellas
  • Denton Engineering Cup: 2pm – Maitland Pickers v South Newcastle Lions

Tickets can be purchased now at:

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