Hawks are one step away from a home grand final after holding off CYMS in Sunday’s all-Orange Group 10 premier league qualifying final, heating up despite the blizzard-like conditions at Wade Park to run out 22-12 victors.
The mercury never rose above four degrees at Wade Park and snow fell sporadically throughout the game too, but the red-hot Hawks defied the conditions in a pulsating performance, returning to their scintillating best after an inconsistent couple of weeks.
Led by a big show from their middles Hawks utilised the strong wind perfectly in the opening 40 minutes and raced to an 18-nil lead by the break, digging in once the breeze was against them and fighting off the desperate CYMS to edge home.
As you can imagine, with his side now facing Cowra in the major semi-final next weekend, two blues captain-coach Willie Heta was absolutely over the moon.
A jubilant Willie Heta just after full-time in his side's 22-12 qualifying final win over @Orange_CYMS, no surprises he wasn't feeling the cold, he and his side were red-hot. They'll play Cowra to decided where the 2018 #Group10 grand finals will be. pic.twitter.com/zSz1ni0AWO— Matt Findlay (@MRFindlay24) August 19, 2018
“One step away,” Heta smiled.
“It was good to hold on to that one … I don’t think [the weather] played too much of a role in the game really, in terms of grip on the ball and stuff.
“I could sort of feel [the wind] at the back, so to win the toss and go with it at the start, I knew we were going to come out firing so to lay the platform in that first half and get the points on the board, we knew we just had to defend it out, and we did that.”
Hawks’ first-half points came via tries from Kyle Robbins, Glen Maxwell and Jordan Baker, while Heta converted one and kicked a pair of penalty goals as well.
Robbins’ try came in the 10th minute and Maxwell’s in the 14th, both were born purely from the two blues’ early dominance.
They held possession and controlled the tempo magnificently, CYMS had just three sets in that period, and the pressure eventually told.
After CYMS fullback Lachie Munro spilled it in a tackle on his own 20-metre line Maxwell was held up, before the two blues spun it to Robbins’ right edge, the big centre crashing his way over to open the scoring.
Just four minutes later after another CYMS knock on in their own half, Maxwell darted from dummy-half 20 out and caught the green and golds napping. Heta converted this one, giving Hawks a 10-nil lead.
Both tries were the reward for extended possession, but big Saul Houma and Sam Coyte deserve plenty of credit for the early lead too, they were superb in the middle early on and thrived with the added responsibility the injured Ethan McKellar left.
Heta nailed a 40-20 on the third tackle of the first set after Maxwell’s try to pile the pressure on CYMS again and then forced a repeat set, straight after halfback Jake Blimka – who had his best game since moving to the No.7 jersey – did the same.
The second of CYMS’ drop-outs sailed out on the full, Heta opted for the penalty goal and put his side two converted tries in front.
CYMS battled away, finally getting their hands on the ball, but Hawks continued to press and after Kyle Fraser was penalised in his own half, Heta slotted a second penalty to extend the lead to 14 three out from half-time.
CYMS player-coach Mick Sullivan admitted he’d have been okay with going into the sheds down by 14, considering the amount of ball Hawks had and the wind as well.
That wasn’t to be though, the two blues went the entire length in the set after the restart and Baker dived over at the end of it. Heta’s conversion was waved away, but the lead was now 18-nil.
“That try definitely hurt,” Sullivan said.
“Fourteen down I think we might’ve been able to claw back but I think 18 was a bit too much, we were pretty flat and just didn't turn up, Hawks rolled over us in that first half.”
CYMS scored first after the break though, bringing more than a glimmer of hope to the predominantly green and gold crowd at Wade Park.
It was Sullivan himself who scored it, in the 43rd minute, finishing off after hooker Ryan Griffin found space through the middle.
Hawks winger Eman Rodriguez was denied a try four minutes later and when Sullivan put Chris Grevsmuhl over the threat of a CYMS comeback was very real, although the gap was still 10 after Brock McGarity’s kick thundered into the right upright.
As CYMS slowly became more and more desperate for points and threw the ball around as a result, Hawks remained stoic in defence and looked to have driven the final nail into CYMS’ coffin when replacement back-rower Brett Morgan drove his way over.
53 | TRY CYMS! Another penalty for CYMS, and Sullivan puts Grevsmuhl over! No one's stopping him from close range. McGarity hits the post, waved away.— Matt Findlay (@MRFindlay24) August 19, 2018
18-8 to Hawks, and those penalties are starting look potentially crucial.#Group10pic.twitter.com/LxQruyTW8x
He was held up though, but it mattered little as Heta chipped for Baker with the next play, the winger soaring high before slamming the ball down for his second.
Heta missed, but with just 12 minutes left and the gap at 14, Hawks looked to have sealed the victory.
As the weather took a turn for the worse CYMS’ desperation heightened, and Hawks’ composure remained.
Dom Maley produced a moment of individual brilliance three out from full-time, pulling off a one-on-one strip inside Hawks’ red zone and diving over, but Sullivan’s kicked missed.
Hawks will now face the minor premiership-winning Magpies at Sid Kallas Oval while CYMS host Bathurst Panthers in the minor semi-final, they ended Oberon’s title hopes in Saturday’s elimination semi-final.
“It’s a week-to-week prospect for us now, there’s only next week,” Sullivan said.
“We’ve got the second chance but maybe earning it took a toll on us physically, I’m not sure, but we were flat. From all accounts Panthers were very, very good [on Saturday night] so we’ll just have to be a lot better than we were [on Sunday].”
Along with Coyte and Houma, Maxwell was massive for Hawks in his stints while Heta, fullback Jackson Coote and back-rower Rakai Tuheke shone as well.
Joe Lasagavibau proved threatening all day for CYMS, so did Griffin and Maley, while Grevsmuhl and Kyle Fraser were a handful in the forwards as well.
- ORANGE HAWKS 22 (Jordan Baker 2, Kyle Robbins, Glen Maxwell tries; Willie Heta goal, 2 penalty goals) def ORANGE CYMS 12 (Mick Sullivan, Chris Grevsmuhl, Dom Maley tries)