Parkes has defended its way to a minor semi-final appearance after withstanding a late barrage from Macquarie in Saturday’s Group 11 finals series opener at Jock Colley Field.
The hosts led 16-10 after dominating possession throughout the elimination semi-final clash with the Raiders, but found themselves clinging to the six-point advantage late as the visitors rose to the occasion.
Forced to defend their own line for the final two minutes, the Spacies defied one incisive Josh Merritt dart before repelling three other huge Macquarie surges to rise triumphant under lights on Saturday night.
Sealing the memorable win, Parkes fullback Sam Dwyer batted a deft grubber kick dead after Merritt attempted to produce one final play from his seemingly bottomless bag of tricks to steal a win.
It was a fitting end to a classic semi-final, and Dwyer believes his side’s ability to rally late in the contest could help lift the Spacies deep into the 2017 post season.
“We were disappointed last year,” the representative gun said, Forbes knocking Parkes out in last year’s elimination semi in week one.
“Progressing this week is great. This is the best time of the year, do-or-die stuff.
FT | "Shattered. It doesn't matter if it's cards or footy, I hate losing."— Nick McGrath (@nickmcgrath4) August 19, 2017
Zac Rennick's take on his sides elimination semi loss #Group11
“We’ve come off a good win over Wello (in the final round) and this is a big one for us. Everyone will be stoked.”
Dwyer said there was only ever one man Macquarie was going to in those final stages, and he watched Merritt like a hawk as time wound down and the Raiders half looked to steer his side home.
“He’s a quality player and anytime we come up against Macquarie he’s the sort of bloke they go to and he can do anything on his day,” Dwyer said.
“We held strong and got numbers around the ball.”
By and large, it was Merritt’s day too - or at least it looked to be.
After Parkes scored first through winger Brendon Paige to lead 6-0, Merritt’s reply was swift.
He sent John Ciappara over with a gem of a short ball to inch Macquarie back to 6-4 down.
But Merritt’s magic was limited by a lack of possession.
Parkes dominated that area - they won the penalty count 4-1 in the opening 40 minutes while also forcing three Raiders drop-outs.
And while Zac Rennick rallied his side gallantly in defence, leaks eventually appeared.
A sensational Chad Porter try on 31 minutes bumped Parkes back out to a 12-4 lead.
The margin remained eight points at the break and, needing to swing things, Macquarie started the better of the two sides in the new term.
Their best chance came at the 47-minute mark, Ash Widders emerging clear of the Parkes defence to streak down his right flank.
Shut the gate - normally.
But referee Simon Hartus correctly pulled the play back for a forward pass.
It gave Parkes good attacking territory, yet again.
Only this time the Spacies lacked polish with the ball, and while they played a lot of the next 10 minutes on the Raiders’ side of half-way, they failed to come up with points.
With his side eventually working its way down field, the nuggetty No.7 dummied, produced a left-foot step and then steamed through the Spacies line to score a great try.
HT | Merritt looks in good touch for Raiders though - get the feeling it's on his shoulders to lift Macquarie #Group11— Nick McGrath (@nickmcgrath4) August 19, 2017
He kicked the goal, too, to draw Macquarie back to a 12-10 deficit.
Macquarie had the wind in its sails heading into the final 20 minutes.
They looked to have crossed again too through hooker Matt Lane, a try that would have gifted the Raiders the lead.
But the crafty hooker was denied, then ruled to have knocked on in-goal, giving Parkes a seven-tackle set.
Centre Jake Porter crashed over in that set of six to edge Parkes ahead 16-10.
62 | HUGE MOMENT. Lane darts over for Macquarie but the refs have a meeting and decide he dropped it. Raiders filthy #Group11— Nick McGrath (@nickmcgrath4) August 19, 2017
As soon as they had momentum, the rug was pulled out from underneath the Raiders.
Despite their best efforts, Macquarie ultimately fell short - Parkes calling on its own steely resolve without the ball to come away with a hard-fought finals victory.
Rennick cut a dejected figure post game but was immensely proud of his young side – under 18s gun Luke Gale one of the Raiders best.
“Very proud of the boys, we put in a great effort,” Rennick said.
“We didn’t have much ball. I think we defended in that first half for about five sets in a row, kept them out.
“We’ve played Parkes three times this year and there’s only been six points in it … but it’s six points we’ve lost by each time.
“Credit to Dennis and the Parkes boys, they showed up today. It was a very up-tempo game.”
Parkes now takes on the loser of Sunday’s qualifying semi-final between Forbes and Nyngan.