STARVED of the ball and weighed down by an alarming penalty count, the Steamers have scraped through to the Southern Inland Rugby union grand final.
The undefeated blue and golds raced to a 19-0 lead after just 30 minutes against CSU at Wagga’s Connolly Park on Saturday and went into half-time ahead 26-12.
But the Reddies dominated the second stanza, camped in the Steamers’ defensive 50 metres for most of the last 40 minutes.
Despite the weight of possession, CSU could only score twice — the final try coming in the dying minutes to drag the final scoreline to 29-24.
Steamers coach Dave Stuart said he would take the positives out of a draining second-half defensive effort.
“To get through that game under all that pressure was a great effort,” he said.
“We knew they would be fired up and their tactics really worked to their advantage — they were disrupting our phases by being better at the breakdown.
“When we did get the ball and try to work it out, we’d cop a penalty.
“The boys, some of those who haven’t played in this competition, had a real taste of the siege mentality you have to take into the finals.
“It was really us against them — Wagga against Albury.”
Stuart nominated forwards Dave Cooper-Dunn, Ryan Schischka, Dan Herden and Nathan Bright as among their best.
He wasn’t prepared to blame the penalty count for the second-half battle, only saying it had been tough on the team.
“But I think it will be a confidence booster for the boys,” he said.
“They know they didn’t put their best foot forward and were still able to keep them at bay.
“We should have kicked more to get out of our own half and we probably left three or four tries out there after dominating the first half.
“Even if we had scored first in the second half, I think it would have been a very different scoreline.
“I think we will come out in the grand final and disprove the doubters.
“What Saturday showed was that we need to play our own game and not get sucked into what opposition are doing.”
Stuart said the Steamers would look to a solid week of training ahead of the grand final against either CSU or Wagga Waratahs on Saturday week.
The Steamers reserves will also have a chance at a grand final spot when it takes on Temora on Saturday at Cootamundra.