Kade Pearce and Jesse Rihari both bagged doubles as the Ellenbrook Rabbitohs defeated the Rockingham Sharks 32-26 to book their ticket to the WA Smarter Than Smoking Premiership finals in their inaugural season at Rockingham Mazda Arena on Saturday.
Formed in 2015, and playing their first season at Premiership level, the Rabbitohs entered play above the Sharks on just points differential – with the winner guaranteed of a spot in the finals and the losers’ season over.
Trailing 16-8 at half-time, Ellenbrook produced a spirited second half performance to get over the line and leave player-coach Jarek Goebel a delighted man.
“To make the finals in our first year is pretty crazy,” Goebel said.
“It’s been a long season, so we’ll celebrate.”
With both sides’ finals aspirations on the line, it was Rockingham who drew first blood as fullback Nathan Hill linked up with captain Reece Potter before blitzing the Ellenbrook defence with a dazzling 70-metre run to score.
The competition new boys came into the contest having lost both their previous games against the Sharks this season but soon hit back as winger Rihari scored his own long-range try – running 75 metres before beating Hill one-on-one to touch down in the corner.
An Alestair Parmenter try in the corner seven minutes later had the Sharks on top by six points before Rihari was at it again just past the half-hour mark as he trampled over Rockingham winger Josh Neal to score.
Down by just two points and sensing an opportunity to put themselves on top before the break, Ellenbrook hit the self-implode button as the impressive River Colman threw an uncharacteristic cut-out pass that was plucked out of thin air by Rockingham five-eight Benton Leme-Pakyo who raced away to give the hosts a 16-8 lead heading into the sheds.
With their season riding on the next 40 minutes, the Rabbitohs burst out of the blocks to start the second half as dummy-half Bryce Wilson got his side back in the contest with a darting run.
Playing with all the momentum, Ellenbrook thought they had taken the lead just before the hour-mark as Coleman sent forward Fernando Ekeroma crashing over, only for the play to be pulled back for a forward pass.
The pass would be Colman’s last involvement for a while, as he was sin-binned alongside Sharks skipper Potter.
Now a 12 on 12 contest, Ellenbrook turned the game on its head as Wilson turned provider to send Manasseh Gudgeon over the line to give the visitors their first lead of the game.
A quick-fire Pearce double then had Ellenbrook fans dreaming of finals football as their side won the sin-binning period 12-0.
The sides weren’t back to full strength for long, however, as Rockingham’s Karl Trego was forced to see out the rest of the game from the sidelines after a sin-binning.
Trailing 32-16, down a man and with time running out, things were looking gloomy for the Sharks in their bid to repeat last year’s final round heroics where they defeated the Joondalup Giants after the siren.
Fuelled by their past achievements, the Sharks weren’t going to die wondering and soon hit back as English fullback Hill grabbed his second of the game before Leme-Payko set up Yuri Taipeti in the corner to set up a grand-stand finish.
Any hopes of a repeat Rockingham miracle were dashed two minutes from time, however, as Neal pushed his sideline conversion wide as the Rabbitohs held on to book their ticket to the finals in their first-ever Premiership season.
Rockingham Sharks 26 (Tries – Hill (2), Parmenter, Leme-Payko, Taipeti. Goals – Neal 3/5)
Ellenbrook Rabbitohs 32 (Tries – Rihari (2), Wilson, Gudgeon, Pearce (2). Goals – Grey 4/6)
Chalk ‘N Cheese Player of the Match: Manasseh Gudgeon (Ellenbrook Rabbitohs)
Rockingham Sharks: 1. Nathan Hill, 2. Josh Neal, 3. Logan Barclay, 4. Yuri Taipeti, 5. Alestair Parmenter, 6. Beme Leme-Pyako, 7. Sean Scott, 8. Reece Potter, 9. Ryan Heeley, 10. Juvon Tupou, 11. Richie Hicks, 12. Luke Hughes, 13. Kieren Crowe, 14. Karl Trego, 15. Marcus Ngaro, 16. Ricky Hayes, 17. Charles Tanikoqi
Coaches – Dave Tito & Peter Worth
Ellenbrook Rabbitohs: 1. Chazz Palmer, 2. Wananga Kingi, 3. Jona Chase, 4. Kade Pearce, 17. Jesse Rihari, 6. Jaylen Grey, 19. Jarek Goebel, 8. Fernando Ekeroma, 9. River Colman, 10. Manasseh Gudgeon, 11. Malakai Chan-Boon, 12. Charlie Adams, 13. Shaan Evans, 14. Bryce Wilson, 14. Nga Joseph, 16. Payden Porter, 18. Chris Tongi
Coach – Jarek Goebel