While all eyes were focussed on the stellar performances of the Roosters and the Raiders last week, many rugby league supporters missed the enthralling finish to the Canterbury Cup competition.
After controversy over the league’s decision to overlook the idea of holding the game as a curtain-raiser for the Raiders preliminary final, Bankwest Stadium would host the Newtown Jets and the Wentworthville Magpies – two teams that extraordinarily made the big dance from seventh and eighth on the ladder respectively.
With the scores locked at 14-all at full-time, the Magpies secured the first lead of extra-time with a field goal, before an outlandish team effort from the Jets secured the 20-15 victory.
So, as the Jets progress to face the Burleigh Bears in this week’s State Championship, here are five things we learned from the epic finale of the Canterbury Cup.
1. The system is a winner
Many involved in the creation of rugby league’s junior pathways were eager to discover the potential success of the new competition format in 2019 after the dissolution of the Holden Cup for Under 20s.
This season – topped off by the exhilarating grand final – has proven that the NRL and the ARLC have got the recipe spot on.
One only has to look at the scoresheet from Sunday’s decider to see the solid mix of youth and experience that the competition combines, with Newtown’s Ronaldo Mulitalo, Scott Sorensen and William Kennedy appearing alongside the established NRL names of Josh Hoffman and George Jennings for Wentworthville.
Joshua Cleeland of the Newtown Jets (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)
The competition’s new format has enabled great potential for individual growth for younger players as they line-up with and against stars of the present and the past.
This was exemplified by the Western Suburbs Magpies, whose stars of the future were provided with the opportunity to play alongside the trio of Josh Reynolds, Robbie Rochow and Chris McQueen in 2019 – a group with over 400 games of first-grade experience for seven different clubs.
2. The future is bright for Cronulla
When analysing the line-up of their feeder club Newtown, it is evident that the future is bright for the Cronulla Sharks as a wealth of young talent makes its way through the club’s development systems.
While Matt Moylan is expected to hold onto the number one jersey for 2020, Jets fullback and man-of-the-match William Kennedy will undoubtedly begin to pressure John Morris into providing him with more first-grade experience after a stellar performance on the big stage.
Kennedy combined with fellow Sharks’ prodigy Ronaldo Mulitalo for the Jets’ first try of the game and led his team in running metres with 248 metres gained across sixteen carries.
With the departure of his brother Jayden to Newcastle, Blayke Brailey is set to feature in the number nine jersey for the Sharks in 2020 as he made 48 tackles and played the full ninety minutes. At halfback, Braydon Trindall had a strong game, kicking fourteen times for 392 metres and slotting three conversions including a clutch goal to send the game into extra time.
In the engine room, Sharks development players Jaimin Jolliffe and Toby Rudolf combined for 76 tackles at an efficiency rate of 92.7 per cent.
The Cronulla Sharks (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
3. Billy Magoulias is a future star
Only adding to Cronulla’s pool of young talent is the man dubbed ‘Gal Jr’, Billy Magoulias.
Touted as the long-term replacement for the Sharks’ skipper, Magoulias made his NRL debut in Round 19, coming off the bench to help his team secure a two-point victory over North Queensland.
While the lock-forward is known for his consistent work ethic on defence and hard-hitting runs in attack, it was Magoulias’ playmaking skills that caught the eyes of many in the Canterbury Cup grand final.
He grubbered through for Scott Sorensen to score the Jets’ second try of the match, before Magoulias had a major role in the match-defining play by placing a perfectly weighted chip kick onto the chest of Tyrone Phillips who sent William Kennedy racing away to score.
With Wade Graham on the left edge and Briton Nikora patrolling the right, Magoulias should round out a back row that is set to become a part of one of the league’s most potent forward packs in 2020.
4. The Eels are flush with backline talent
While Cronulla are evidently stacked with future stars, the Magpies’ line-up proved that the Eels possess considerable depth in positions one through seven.
Should Dylan Brown or Mitchell Moses miss any time through injury or potential representative duties in 2020, the Eels will be well covered in the halves by Jaemon Salmon and Rhys Davies.
Salmon was provided limited NRL experience in the early stages of 2019 and showed glimpses of promise, while Davies has excelled in reserve grade, tallying 136 points and 15 try assists across 28 appearances this season.
Out wide, Greg Leleisiuao was tipped to challenge Maika Sivo for the starting wing spot to start this season but was narrowly overlooked in favour of the Fijian flyer. He has done his case for future selection no harm with 12 tries, second only in the Magpies outfit to Bevan French.
Likewise, Ethan Parry has impressed on attack and defence with nine tries, six line-breaks and an average of 98 metres gained per game. His moment of the final came in the 44th minute as he shrewdly came across in cover defence to block a pass that would have led to the Jets taking the lead.
5. Extra-time is the way to go
While golden point provided us with the thrilling finals conclusions to the 2015 grand final and 2010 Qualifying Final between the Roosters and the Tigers, it has come under fire in 2019 for producing results that have a greater reliance on luck than skill.
Golden point for the finals was scrapped in 2016, less than a year after Johnathan Thurston’s history-making field goal at ANZ Stadium.
In its place, the NRL has re-introduced the ten-minute extra-time period, as was seen in the famous 1989 NSWRL decider between Canberra and Balmain.
Should Sunday’s decider have been determined by Golden Point, the game would have reached its conclusion with Jaeman Salmon’s 82nd minute field goal, robbing fans of the opportunity to witness one of the all-time great rugby league grand final plays.
By providing oppositions with the right of reply following a field goal, the NRL is hoping to produce fairer results that don’t detract from the excitement and suspense of Golden Point. This game proved exactly that.
Will we see extra-time in this week’s NRL decider? Only time will tell.