The Inverell RSM Hawks juniors survived a last-ditch effort from Armidale in the dying minutes of their preliminary final to record a tenacious 24 to 20 victory and enable them to advance to the grand final.
Inverell got off to a disastrous start when they allowed the kick off from Armidale to go dead in goal. From the ensuing drop out a number of penalties were incurred and Armidale managed to break the Inverell defence and score in the corner. The early setback appeared to sting the Hawks into action and through some set plays, Brady Mather was able to cross out wide in the 14th minute of play, to level the scores at 4-all. Five minutes later and with the Hawks appearing to gain some momentum, Ethan Campbell broke through the Armidale defence to score beside the posts, and with Nik House converting, the Hawks were in front by 10 to 4. From the restart, Inverell managed to work play down field and with a slick inside pass from Will McAuliffe, Noah Mallory crossed for a try and Inverell had forged to a 14 to 4 lead. As the siren was sounding for half time, an Inverell error allowed Armidale to race 50 metres and score in the corner. With the conversion unsuccessful, the half time score had Inverell leading 14 points to 8.
Armidale began the second half as they finished the first, with a determined try to their centre Ryan Vial. After the successful conversion, scores were locked at 14-all. The Hawks hit back in spectacular fashion when their fullback Liam Lazar, split the Armidale defence wide open on his own 20 metre line, and then beat a number of defenders in a run down the touch line that resulted in him scoring near the posts. Nik House converted and the Hawks were back in front 20 to 14. Ten minutes later Armidale drew level again through a converted try. Not to be outdone, Inverell centre Jack Stafford scored a great 30 minute individual try to edge the Hawks ahead 24 to 20 with 10 minutes remaining. A huge defensive effort was required from the side as Armidale continually attacked the Inverell tryline, especially in the last four minutes of play. The full-time siren had sounded prematurely and with this Jack Stafford took the ball into touch 30 metres from his own tryline believing the game was over. After the referee was notified that there was still time remaining he gave Armidale the scrum feed. Inverell defended their line with great tenacity surviving three sets of six tackles. After the Hawks finally regained possession, Armidale managed an intercept on half way and were dragged down only centimetres from the Hawks tryline as the fulltime siren sounded.
This was a huge effort from the Inverell team, and will give them great confidence going into the Grand Final on Saturday against their arch rivals, the Tingha Tigers.