Palmerston coach John Wantling admits he could barely watch the final eight minutes of his side’s dramatic qualifying final win over South Darwin but says they’ll have “nothing to lose” come Saturday night’s historic Darwin XXXX A-Grade decider against Casuarina.
The fourth-placed Crocs backed up their semi final boilover against Uni Pirates to shock Souths 24-14 with Matthew Barker, James White and Nemani Maucavu crossing the whitewash at Rugby Park.
In a late twist, Crocs veteran prop and club president Jacob Brant was forced from the field with a neck twinge, leaving 71-year-old Dennis Bree to deliver an eight-minute stint in the front row as Palmerston held out a desperate Rabbitohs attack in the dying minutes.
Wantling said the 10-point win was one to savour.
“Honestly my guts were churning with us in front come those last 8-10 minutes, especially with Dennis out there, but we really deserved that win and there were lots of tears on the sidelines after full time,” Wantling said.
“We were really close to Souths the first time we played with our full complement but the last two times they really thrashed us, so having our best team on the park in the qualifier changed things for us – we were pumped up and I think Souths were a bit shellshocked.
“Our attacking lineout worked really well, our forwards are more confident now that at the start of the season, and we’re getting to a point where we’re a more resilient team – previously we’d have our heads down if we got scored against but now we’re just getting back out there and right into the game.”
Palmerston will nevertheless enter this weekend’s XXXX A-Grade decider as rank underdogs with Casuarina boasting 11 players in the 2022/23 Team of the Year to go with their 12-1 season record, including a 27-0 win over the Crocs in their last meeting.
“We’re under no illusions that we’re a young team who hasn’t played finals for a long time – our average age would be around 21-22 and the last time we won a final most of my boys weren’t born,” Wantling said.
“But the games we’ve had against Cougars previously have been closer than the scoreboard suggests and we know the areas they’ll target us through.
“They’ve got plenty of firepower out wide and strong inside backs too, but our boys have plenty of belief now and with our full complement of players, anything can happen.”
Casuarina haven’t just excelled in A-Grade with four teams qualifying for Saturday’s grand final round at Rugby Park.
In addition to their A-Grade decider against Palmerston, the Cougars will tackle Katherine in B-Grade & Darwin Dragons in the Women’s sevens along with their dominant U16 outfit.