2023 NRL WA Premiership Review – Semi Finals

By Peter Rowe

And then there were three.

South Perth Lions slipped out of contention for honours on Saturday afternoon leaving just Fremantle, North Beach and Joondalup in the race for the 2023 NRLWA Fuel to Go and Play Premiership.

Fremantle secured their grand final spot with a  39-12 win over the Sea Eagles, who will now face Joondalup in a northern suburbs preliminary final derby next weekend after the Giants stood tall to see off the Lions with a dominating 48-20 win.

The Giants raced into a 20-0 lead before the home side scored, finding spaces around the edges with four tries from Donavan Kahupukoro, in the right corner, then a double from winger Te Maanihera Tuaiti and another from Luke Turner down the left.

“We knew we couldn’t go through the middle against them so we tested the edges and found space,” a delighted  coach Taurean Sheehan said after the game.

“It was the start we had worked on during the week, but like always we then had to fight to keep Souths at bay.”

The Lions managed to close the gap through Jayden Hocking, but no sooner had they scored and Joondalup capitalised on errors to march up the field for River Colman to dive over from short yardage.

And the try fest of a first half was not over as Souths scored again two minutes from the break thanks to hooker Caleb Norton.

But no matter what the Lions tried, their execution at crucial times let them down and Joondalup kept coming back.

“We were just poor in defence, something we have talked about all year. We focused on it all week but it didn’t work,” team manager Paul Brown said.

“Well played Joondalup, they were the better side on the day.”

Centre Dylan Davis added another try for the visitors four minutes into the second stanza and despite an Ethan Gourgaud score minutes later, Turner grabbed a second off a clever Gus Marshall grubber kick to extend the lead.

Norton grabbed his second of the afternoon with ten minutes remaining but Joondalup weren’t done yet, adding their tenth try of the afternoon when Rylee Captien barged over with seven minutes left on the clock.

“We knew a good start would give us momentum,” Sheehan added.

“And we had to keep everyone’s head clear at halftime, there was still plenty to play for and we knew Souths would come back.

“After weeks and weeks of hanging in the battle for a playoff spot we just kind of fought back and hung in there defensively when it mattered.”

Fremantle booked their week off with a comfortable 39-12 win over North Beach, thanks mostly to a dominating second half performance that saw them score four times.

Jayden Solomon, Kerrod Hignett and Regy Manu had given the Roosters a slim 14-12 lead at halftime, but with a strong breeze behind them the minor premiers secured a consecutive grand final appearance as Bjorn Crotty, Joe Po’ohila, Hignett again and Julian Wylie all crossed before Paora Kemp kicked a field goal with 30 seconds left on the clock.

“We weathered the storm in the first half and Beach pushed us all the way,” Roosters captain Duane Butler said.

“We gave away silly penalties in that half and we knew we had to tighten up after halftime.

“It was a wrestle in the middle and around the ruck to stop Trent Trotter, who is always dangerous and Kade (McDonald) posed us some problems around the edge, but we got there in the end.”

The win gives Fremantle the week off but they won’t be taking it easy, training four time this week to maintain fitness and momentum ahead of the big dance on September 9.

Sea Eagles coach Phil Douche was disappointed with his team’s second half performance and must lift his side again for next weekend’s preliminary final against Joondalup.

“We’ve got talent and our work rate is there, but we lack maturity and discipline – something Fremantle have,” Douche said.

“We stretched them in the first half but after the interval we couldn’t match them.”