Freakish chip and chase puts SCU Marlins in winner's circle
A SENSATIONAL backline movement 10 minutes from the end was the boost Southern Cross University needed to down Kempsey 31-27 in Mid North Coast Rugby.
Trailing by three points and almost out of gas, the Marlins appeared to be heading out of the semi final race.
Near half way they gained possession in the muddiest section of Coffs Coast Advocate Rugby Park's training field - where the match had been transferred after 'Marlins' Park proved unplayable.
For reasons probably best known to him, fullback Josh Rayner decided on a little chip over the top of the Kempsey defence.
The ball landed in the mud, just as Rayner appeared from nowhere to scoop it up and start a race to the right hand side, straight into even more mud.
A desperate pass found replacement Liam Sandstrom and he started ploughing ahead.
Collared by the Cannonballs, Sandstrom found support on his inside and the second pass found Rayner screaming into clear space and across the line.
Marlins were back in business and while the Cannonballs tried every tactic to turn the game around, a massive defensive effort in the dying stages kept them at bay.
Coach Dave Nicol admits he was bemused when the star custodian thought up his cunning plan.
"It worked out nice and helped us split them down the right hand side," he said.
"Luckily it came when it did because we should never have been behind.
"Consistency was again a problem as we slackened off each time we had them in hand."
Before the match, Nicol hatched a scheme to make most use of the impact delivered by big Joel Riddle.
The home side led early but slumped again to trail 13-7 when 'Big Woody' was brought on for the final 15 minutes of the first half.
A surge in play saw Riddle go over and when Tim Davis kicked a penalty, Marlins were back in front.
They went further ahead soon after the resumption when the team's best player - lock forward Yakos Johnson - burst up the centre to score another try.
At 24-13 they should have wrapped up the game but again relaxed and allowed the Cannonballs back into it.
"I wanted to bring the big blokes out again but thought we'd be right," Nicol said.
"Instead we pulled up again and were in trouble there for a while.
"Josh helped get us back on track at the end."
In the conditions, Marlins handled very well but if they can only extend the attention span to 80 minutes, special things may unfold.
"We're back in winning form and back in the race again," Nicol added.
"Kempsey did manage to collect a bonus point which isn't what we needed but we're alive and it's again up to us."
Southern Cross University Marlins d Kempsey 31-27
Hastings Valley Vikings d Port Macquarie Pirates 29- 8
Coffs Harbour Snappers bye
Hastings Valley d Port Macquarie 24-12
SCU d Kempsey 24-14
Bowraville Goannas d Coffs Harbour 32-12