THE Shoalhaven Ex-Servicemens/ Printer Corp first grade side travelled to Wollongong knowing that a loss to Vikings would finish their lingering hopes of making this year’s semi-finals play-offs.
Vikings sat four competition points ahead of Shoals in fifth place and to get ahead of them Shoals had to gain the five competition points for a win and score four tries or more and keep Vikings well out of the game.
When Shoals raced to a 22-5 lead just after the half-time break, it looked like they were on their way.
But Vikings produced an amazing comeback to all but snatch the game.
Shoals held a 17-nil lead at half-time after fullback Mark Brandon produced three sizzling first half tries.
Steve Brandon roared away with a 50 metre burst to score the fourth try after just two minutes of the second half.
But then Vikings began their fight back.
Shoals held on to score a great win to take the game by 32-31.
Vikings earned two competition points from this game to keep them one clear of Shoalies.
Vikings play University of Wollongong next Saturday while Shoals take on Avondale at their Dapto Oval.
The semi-finals contenders will be not be clear until after these games.
Shoals opened the game in brisk fashion with their forwards charging into the rucks and mauls with great vigour.
It was not long before the ball was spun out to Mark Brandon, flashing into a back line move, and he raced away for a scintillating try out wide.
The next 25 minutes was a torrid affair with the two sides going hammer and tongs at each other.
Shoals’ prop, James Smith, had an outstanding game and was best on field with his dynamic bursts up the middle and crashing ball and all tackling.
Not far behind him were back rowers, Tom Horton and Alex Wilson, who destroyed many a Viking attacking raid with crunching tackles and also carried the ball into the teeth of the defence.
Mark Brandon was at it again in the 30th minute when he was given some room to move about 35 metres out from Vikings line when he jinked, cut back and then straightened to race away for a fine try.
Keiran Brandon knocked over the conversion and Shoals had a 12 point lead.
Vikings put Shoals under enormous pressure in the last 10 minutes of the half. Their well-drilled forwards cleverly used a short passing game to drag Shoals forwards in close then unleashed their back line.
The game flowed all around the park in an exciting burst of 15-man rugby.
Again it was Mark Brandon who broke the impasse with another blazing burst of speed that carried him through then around the defensive shield to post his 3rd try on the trot.
The half-time hooter sounded with Vikings pressing hard to open their scoring.
The second half of the game became a high scoring period with Vikings taking control of the ball for lengthy phases of play.
Shoals were pinned down in their own half for much of the time as Vikings used the strengthening wind to good advantage.
Vikings did not let Steve Brandon’s early try unsettle them and took the game to Shoals from the restart of play.
Their very good five-eighth and centre combination cut Shoals to threads at times and it was these two who conjured up their side’s first try two minutes after Shoals’ early effort.
They scored a second try a bare two minutes later.
Shoals worked to stem the flow of tries and through sheer will drove Vikings back into their own quarter and produced enough pressure to force a penalty. Keiran Brandon drove the ball over and Shoals had the lead by 25 points to 10 at the 20 minute mark.
Vikings’ very vocal supporters then exhorted their team to greater efforts and they delivered.
Just two minutes after Shoals kicked their penalty goal Vikings strode in for a third try and the conversion narrowed Shoals’ lead to just eight points.
Disaster then struck Shoals when a blocked kick allowed Vikings to gain ground and take play into Shoals’ 22 metre area.
A quick ruck and their speedy and elusive fullback raced down the left touch line to score 15 metres from the posts.
The conversion reduced Shoals’ lead to a bare point.
Shoals regrouped and took the match to Vikings over the next 10 minutes.
They relentlessly drove play up the middle using both forwards and backs and secured a spate of penalties.
They lost crucial line outs but each time managed to get back on the front foot. Finally after a pressure laden series of plays, big lock Mitch Hardy stretched out and found the try line.
Keiran Brandon was on song with his conversion attempt and Shoals had regained an eight point lead.
The last few minutes of the game were both torrid to play and exciting to watch. Each side had chances to score but often an errant step outside the field of play was all that stopped a try being scored.
Finally with time almost up, Vikings threw everything in in a last ditch effort. They were rewarded when their five-eighth cut through near the posts for a well earned try.
The conversion was successful and the referee signaled time.
Shoals had held on to a great one-point win against a determined Vikings outfit, who are always hard to beat on home turf.
While in some ways it was a shade disappointing not to leap-frog Vikings on the competition ladder, the win by Shoals was a great reward for a determined effort.
Shoals played well in patches as did Vikings.
In the end there was not much between these two fine sides which boast some exceptionally talented rugby players.
Best players for Shoals were James Smith, Mark Brandon and Tom Horton.
Shoals play Avondale at Dapto next Saturday in the final match of the second round of the IDRU competition.
This weekend’s game will decide the semi-final sides.
Shoals deserve their chance after staging a remarkable turn around in their fortunes during these second round games.
They have come from well behind the ruck after round one and much credit goes to hard working coach Scott Jones for building his team throughout this season.