Comets defeat Port Macquarie
COACH Warren Gilkinson was left wiping away tears after his Coffs Harbour side played its way into the VB Gold Group 2 grand final with a solid 27-16 defeat of Port Macquarie at Hastings Regional Stadium.
Gilkinson was a member of his club's last first-grade premiership-winning team in 1985 and has spent the last quarter century barely concealing a burning desire to collect another title from the opposite side of the fence.
Yesterday's victory wasn't pretty but it was emphatic enough to rocket the Comets into short-priced favouritism to jump the final hurdle into history.
“We had a game plan and it started to work when we shut Matt Blake down so Port couldn't get their unloads away,” he said.
“My boys are realising what kind of footy team they are and there's just one more match standing in the way of what we set out to achieve.”
The Sharks made the perfect start by completing five sets in the opening 14 minutes.
They opened the scoring with a try to Danny Graham but their first error was a missed tackle which allowed Kyle Pauro to scoot 30 metres and open the account for the visitors.
Coffs backed that up with two further unconverted tries leading to the break and for the first (but not the last) time that afternoon Port coach Tony Pascoe was seen to cover his face with his hands and shake his head in frustration.
The game fell into stalemate following the resumption but a penalty goal kicked by Anthony Donovan in the 56th minute livened things up with the Comets again cutting loose in a try-scoring frenzy.
Suddenly, the minor premiers were losing touch and although they pulled off two late touchdowns the bird had flown and a field goal in the dying seconds iced the cake.
“I don't believe we could have played any worse than that,” Pascoe admitted .
“There should have been more points to us at the start when we were going alright, if we wanted to stay in it.
“Congratulations to Coffs, they played well and deserved their win.”
Having the long break played against the home side but there were some fine individual performances.
Five-eighth Joe Cudmore was the best on the park in the opening stanza and despite having more bandages encircling his head than an Egyptian mummy, skipper Michael Bright kept battling the tide.
Victory means this year's season decider will be played at Advocate Park for the first time since 1997 with Coffs Harbour's opponent still to be determined.
Port and Macksville Sea Eagles will return to Shark Park on Sunday to sort out which of them will progress to the last stage.
Now just two more weeks remain to discover if the campaign started by Gilkinson and his players last December will reach fruition.
He spent 78 minutes of yesterday afternoon alternately prowling and growling on the sideline before finally cracking it for a tear-filled grin of pleasure.
“Every time we get together, every time we play or do anything at all, the message I give is they should believe in themselves,” he said.
“That's all it comes down to at this time of year but grand finals are different and you only get one shot and my advice to the boys will be simple.
“Get on top early and don't let go. That's what we have to do to win the premiership.”