Newtown finished the first half strongly and looked to be well-positioned when they led 24-16 at half-time. Cursed by injuries and their own errors in the second half, the Jets staged a death or glory rally late in the match that fell just short of overhauling Canterburys lead.
The Jets began the match strongly and tries to Paul Rokolati from an intercept, and a long-distance effort involving Brad Barrett, Ben Jones and Henare Wells saw Newtown leading 12-0 after as many minutes. Unfortunately five-eighth Ben Jones incurred a leg injury and was gone for the rest of the game. Front-rower Khalid Deeb, who was celebrating his 100th VB NSW Cup appearance with the Newtown club, suffered a thigh injury around the 20th minute mark and he also took no further part in the match.
Newtown then fell into a bad patch of play when a combination of suspect short side defence and a series of unforced errors in possession allowed the Bulldogs back into the game. Canterbury scored three tries to take a 16-12 lead with ten minutes left in the first half. The Jets fought hard to regain some momentum and strongman forward Saulala Houma rediscovered his try-scoring touch from earlier in the season when he bulldozed his way over for tries in the 35th and 37th minutes. Adding to Newtowns misfortunes, Houma suffered a foot injury that kept him out of the action for the entire second half, meaning that the Jets had to cope shorthanded in the unseasonably warm conditions with one man on the bench for the second forty minutes.
Newtown added to their manpower problems in the second half with another series of errors and penalties. The Bulldogs had a 90% completion rate in the second half compared to Newtowns 70%. Despite the reality of their injury problems and the adverse playing conditions, the Jets have to shoulder the blame for this defeat through the repeated errors that prevented them from making ground and putting pressure on the Bulldogs at their end of the field. Canterbury scored an unanswered 18 points after half-time that gave the Bulldogs a 34-24 lead. The Jets mounted an absorbing fightback in the last ten minutes and Brad Barrett scored after adventurous lead-up work by Adam Henry and Paul Rokolati to narrow Canterburys lead to 34-30. Newtown then staged a spine-tingling attacking finish that nearly pulled the game out of the fire, but this was to be a day where the Jets quota of miracle last-minute victories had been used up.
Jets coach Greg Matterson pointed to the teams error rate and defensive lapses as being the primary reasons for the defeat, while he acknowledged the undoubted bravery of the players in battling on for the entire second half with only one man on the interchange bench. It has to be said that the opportunity was there to consolidate fourth place and to have a crack at advancing straight into the preliminary-final, but that chance was blown on Saturday afternoon. The Jets coaching staff rated Kurt Kara, Brad Barrett and Nafe Seluini as being the Jets best players on the day.
The Newtown Jets now go into an elimination semi-final against Wentworthville this Sunday (15th September) at Leichhardt Oval, with this sudden death encounter timed to get underway at 4.00pm.
Image:Newtown Jets back-rower Brad Barrett breaks clear against Canterbury-Bankstown at Henson Park last Saturday (Photo: Gary Sutherland Photography)