By Jorja Brinums (QRL Media)
Long-time rivals Wynnum Manly Seagulls and Redcliffe Dolphins will fight to remain in the race to the Intrust Super Cup grand final on Sunday.
Wynnum finished third but lost to Burleigh Bears by only two points during the first week of finals and must step up to keep in the running.
The Dolphins finished sixth on the ladder but beat Tweed Seagulls last week, thanks to a Tyson Gamble field goal in the dying moments of the game, to earn their spot in the clash.
The two sides have faced off twice this season; Wynnum won the first clash 18-10 and Dolphins won the second 32-20.
Wynnum CEO Hanan Laban said for Wynnum, it was “the most important game for the club in almost five years and our entire community is buzzing”.
“A ‘do or die’ elimination final just takes one of the biggest and oldest rivalries in rugby league to another level,” Laban said.
“There have been many epic matches between us and I have no doubt that the Gulls will be up for this one – the Chook Pen will be rocking!”
Wynnum skipper Mitch Cronin, who is a gun, said everyone was excited for Sunday’s game.
“It’s two of the biggest rivals in Intrust Super Cup going head-to-head, so there should be a big crowd and entertaining game,” Cronin said.
“Last week we started too slow and let the game get away from us, so we’ll be looking to fix that and make sure we start well.
“We still have the belief that we can go all the way… we just need to get ourselves right and make sure we’re at our best starting this Sunday.”
Dolphins football operations general manager Grant Cleal said the game at BMD Kougari Oval, in front of what is sure to be a boisterous Chook Pen, was sure to be a cracker.
“(The rivalry) is something that’s always there without talking about it,” Cleal said.
“The big overriding factor this week for both sides is the fact it could be the last game of the year and no one wants that.”
Redcliffe, the reigning premiers, experienced a tough start to the season, winning only three of their first 10 games. But Gamble re-joined the club before June 30 and helped turn their season around.
“Tyson Gamble has been a really big inclusion for us,” Cleal said.
“Tyson was a local junior here – he came through our development programs, so he wasn’t a stranger to the club, and that stigma of the other players thinking ‘who is this bloke coming in before June 30?’ – he didn’t have that. He was well known around the place before he came back.
“He’s added a lot of confidence to our squad and a lot of physical attributes go along with him as well – he’s got a really good kicking game and he’s a good organiser on the field as well. He’s been the main reason for our turn around.
“You’ve got to hand it to the rest of the players as well after the start they had. And the coaching staff, to keep working hard.”
Cleal said the team would dig deep for fan favourite and all-round nice guy Aaron Whitchurch, who will retire from the game at the end of this season.
“He’s the ultimate professional. He’s been studying a mathematics degree since he left school and he’s got two young daughters – a great little family,” Cleal said.
“In the time it takes to compete in this competition, I can’t imagine how he’s done it. The work load that has been involved for him over the last four of five years in particular, since he’s been doing uni – I can’t believe he’s still doing it.
“He finishes university at the end of this year, so he’s got to go and find a job. Then the workload goes up again for him, so something had to give at some point and it’s footy. That’s how it should be. He’s got to look after his family and his career. It’s a shame. He’s a big loss.
Cleal said he had no doubt Wynnum would also come out firing.
“We’re all in it to win it. Someone will miss out this weekend and it’ll be disappointing for that team. If that’s us, we’ll be heartbroken, so we want to make sure we do as much as we can to make sure we’re not heartbroken and we’re going on,” Cleal said.
“All the teams and all the clubs in our competition work really hard.
“Aaron Whitchurch is a really small cross section of the type of person that plays our game at this level. All working full time, all got families, and to some degree they’re probably working harder than NRL players. They’ve got more to juggle.
“This time of year is a really good reward for those guys. It’ll be a huge reward for a couple of teams to get to grand final day and we’re hoping we’re one of them.”