THE Steamers will play Wagga Waratahs in the Southern Inland Rugby grand final after the underdogs clinched a spot in the decider with a heart-stopping one-point win against CSU.
Prop Harry Cook snatched the winning try in the dying minutes after the Reddies had led with less than four minutes on the clock.
Pushed to the brink in the tough and desperate encounter, Tahs erupted as the final whistle signalled a 30-29 win, the end of a fairytale run to Saturday’s decider.
“It’s no different to any other finals I’ve ever played against Reddies back in my day,” coach Hugh Palmer said.
“Our bench, we really cherish it because we lose nothing by the players we put on.
“I’m just so happy and proud of the boys for getting through to a grand final.
“At the start of the season we had eight blokes showing up to training and everyone wrote us off, so to come away with this is amazing.”
Reddies scored in the opening five minutes before Tahs hit back with consecutive tries to lead 13-5 after 30 minutes.
A long-range try to Reddies fullback Mitch Fealy narrowed the gap to 13-10 heading into half-time, before Tahs came out swinging in the second half.
Matching Reddies spirited defence and potent back line, Tahs took several cracks at the line before halfback Sam Hobbs ducked from behind the ruck to score from two metres out to kick off the second half.
Try for try, Reddies winger Brett Wendt flew from the wing to beat several defenders and wrap around to score under the posts to get within a point, before Tahs counterpart John Andrews extended Tahs’ lead 25-17.
Two quick tries to Fealy and Brent Merritt captured the 29-25 lead for Reddies with five minutes on the clock, as Tahs muscled up the field with plenty of purpose to put Cook across the line to win.
Determined runs from Cook and captain Jock Munro put Tahs in all the right places, while back-line stars Steve Tracey, Matt Binks and Dan Selmes looked dangerous with the ball.
“It was a really tough game for us, Reddies threw everything at us,” Palmer said.
“We lost our ten, Euan Bonner (hamstring) who’s been playing fantastic football.”
Steamers’ reserves will also play on the final day of the competition after a 14-10 win against Temora put them in the decider in the Romano Cup.