PORT City Breakers survived a first-half scare to overcome Macleay Valley 46-24 in their Group 3 major semi-final on Sunday.
The eight-tries-to-four victory ensures the Breakers are into their third-straight grand final.
They will shoot for back-to-back premierships at Regional Stadium on August 27 against the Mustangs or Taree City.
Coach Dan Kemp admitted his side “learnt some lessons, but we didn’t have to lose the game to learn them” after they led 18-0 after 20 minutes.
“We did everything we said we can’t do in a major semi-final,” he said.
“Five penalties when we had the ball is more than you’d make in four games and inevitably it got them back in the game.
“We learnt some really valuable lessons going into two weeks time.”
The Mustangs then scored three tries in an 11-minute period just before the break to draw level at 18-all at half-time.
Five penalties when we had the ball is more than you’d make in four games and inevitably it got them back in the game.Port City Breakers coach Dan Kemp
Kemp said the lesson was how quickly momentum could shift, especially against an ad-lib attacking opponent.
“You can be on top in every facet of the game, but if you go away from what you do well you can drag the other mob into it,” he said.
“Their first two tries were off chip kicks from nowhere and then all of a sudden it’s 18-12 and it’s game on.”
The message from the Breakers coach at half-time was to control the ball and the results would come.
It proved to be the case as the undefeated ladder-leaders won the second half 28-6.
Kemp, however, said his team went a long way towards winning the game when they clung to a 28-24 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
They repelled the Mustangs for four straight sets on their line.
You can be on top in every facet of the game, but if you go away from what you do well you can drag the other mob into it.Dan Kemp
“We shot ourselves in the foot and had to come up with a lot of line defence and we kept on turning them back over and over again,” he said.
“I don’t know how many sets they had on our line, but they never went through us the conventional way, they had to kick to a corner or chip and chase and the boys showed a lot of resolve.
“They’re a pretty proud bunch of boys and take a lot of pride in their defensive line.”
Kemp felt the Breakers controlled game plan would eventually wear the Mustangs down.
“We knew that, but it can be hard to control a game for 80 minutes, certainly against a side like that,” he said.
“We just had to stay patient because I thought our best footy was better than theirs and we’d get them.”
Kemp said he was disappointed to give five penalties away in possession and they couldn’t afford to do that in the grand final.
“That is an easy one for us to stamp out because it was just individuals making poor decisions,” he said.
“It’s outstanding to be hosting a grand final because it is as good as it gets in country rugby league.”
Port City Breakers 46 (Tries: Richie Roberts 2, Jeremy Smith, Ricky Arnell, Kurt Durbridge, Owen Blair, Jarrod Robbins, Adrian Daley. Goals: Mick Marshall 7/8) defeated Macleay Valley Mustangs 24 (Tries: Jacob Smith, Brayden Davis, Willy Lockwood, Jerome Taylor)
Here’s how the match unfolded: