By Andrew Jackson.
A dramatic end to the game saw Thunder pull off a victory with Benn Hardcastle kicking a touchline conversion.
That opportunity came after Skolars’ Simona Vavega was red-carded for a head-butt. Newcastle ran the penalty and scored through Ali Blair, with Hardcastle’s kick sealing victory.
There was a further sending off after the hooter, with Aaron Small receiving marching orders for dissent. It was an unwelcome double for the Skolars’ centre, having been sin-binned after the hooter on the first half for fighting, along with Thunder’s Hardcastle.
The opening quarter of the game had seen Skolars dominate. With Charlie Lawrence and Mike Bishay side-lined after injuries last week, Jermaine Coleman put himself at stand-off and debutant Phil Lyon at scrum half. The signing from London Chargers made an early impact, spotting a gap and drawing the defence before offloading to Sam Nash. He then forced an error from a high kick and Skolars took advantage with Small taking a quick pass from Coleman to touch down.
Vincent Rennie and Aaron Teroi’s entries from the bench both saw Thunder gain more yardage with each set. A Danny Nicklas scoot put them close to the line and Brett Waller went over from short range. A Lyon penalty put Skolars eight points ahead, but a clever kick-off saw Jake Melling desperately race twenty meters to take the ball but lost control. Nicklas took the ball ten meters from the line, he paused and when the Skolars raced out from the defensive line, he’d created a gap to stroll over.
Three minutes later, they’d scored again when Darren Olpherts went over to level the scores. Thunder gained a penalty as the hooter sounded and a speculative kick came to nothing, but then came the fight that saw several players from both sides get involved.
With Hardcastle off the field, Thunder made a poor start to the second half, kicking the ball straight in to touch. Skolars regained the led with a Lyon penalty, but he went soon afterwards with a damaged shoulder. The lead changed when Blair edged his way past the defence in the corner. After an earlier fifty meter break, Lamont Bryan took a short pass from Matt Davis to regain the lead, Sam Nash taking over the kicking duties. Skolars looked to have done enough to hold on, but then came the minute of madness on which Thunder were able to capitalise.
A relieved Thunder Head Coach Mick Mantelli said: “It wasn’t our best performance, but a year ago we’d have lost that game and the pleasing aspect is that we showed some good composure at the end.”
Skolars’ player/coach was forthright: “It’s very disappointing not to have come away with a win after controlling much of the eighty minutes.
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