The Magpies traveled to Leichhardt Oval to play in front of probably the biggest crowd of the season who had gathered to see them take on the minor premiers, Canterbury Bulldogs. The loosing team would bow out of the competition with the winner being rewarded with a place in the 2010 NSW Cup Grand Final.
Windsor Wolves were the first team into the grand final after beating Balmain Tigers in the first match of the afternoon. The Magpies were looking to keep one of the joint venture flags flying, but unfortunately it was not to be. Although the Magpies enjoyed their most successful season for around 20 years they came up a few points short at the end of this important game.
John Skandalis was a late inclusion in the team and showed throughout the afternoon why he was on the verge of playing for Wests Tigers against St George Dragons the previous night. He played strongly for long periods and certainly stiffened up the defense around the centre of the field.
The Magpies played an expansive game which caught the Dogs short on several occasions, but unforced errors would prove to be their achilles heel. Nua Akeripa and Junior Moors caused havoc when they ran the ball at the Dogs three quarter line, but a lot of their good work came undone when errors turned the ball over.
After capitalising on a dropped ball, Dogs second row forward Yileen Gordon found himself in good field position and at the end of a determined run he pushed over for the first try of the day. The attempted conversion from Josh Reynolds was waved away, but the Dogs had got off to a good start, leading the Magpies 4 points to nil.
For the next 25 minutes, both teams got to the end of their sets before putting in clearing kicks, however neither side could made a dent in their respective defensive lines. But that changed when Wests replacement forward Kurt Kara caught the defense napping. He gained around 20 metres before wing three quarter Gus Aiga scooted from dummy half, making another 20 metre run into the opposition’s territory. Magpie half and captain Nathan Waters called for the leather before putting in a long kick which was taken by Dogs fullback Trent Cutler.
A good defensive set followed before Dogs half Josh Reynolds turned the Magpies around with a fine attacking kick, which rolled into touch near the Magpies 30 metre line. After winning the scrum, Magpie fullback Rhys Pritchard chimed into the backline. He pushed off an attempted tackle before off loading to Gus Aiga who sprinted away from the chasers in a 40 metre run to the try line. Wests hooker Chris Corby added the extras, putting the Magpies in the lead 6 points to 4.
Over the next 6 minutes or so, the Magpies saw themselves under a lot of pressure. Presented with extra possession, the Dogs ran in two quick tries to take a 14 points to 6 lead into the sheds at half time. The first try was scored by fullback Trent Cutler after it appeared the ball was stripped from a Magpies grasp, but it went unnoticed. It was converted by Josh Reynolds with a further try to Dogs five eight Rhys Jack. Despite this setback the Magpies were well and truly in the game.
The second half was only 2 minutes old when Wests Magpies second row forward Nua Akeripa received a great ball from George Kepa. After beating the first line of defense he had a clear run to the line, but first he had to get around Dogs fullback Trent Cutler. The attack seemed to come to an end when Akeripa was grabbed from behind, but looming up on his inside was George Kepa. Akeripa flicked a good ball to his support player who dived under the posts. Corby’s conversion took the Magpies to within 2 points of the Dogs, 14 to 12.
Barely 5 minutes had expired when the Magpies were on the attack again. After receiving the ball from a kick, Wests forwards Michael Stolk and John Skandalis carried the attack over the advantage line. Waters followed this with a chip kick which was knocked on by the opposition. Alex Ranieri dived onto the loose ball. Trying to get to his feet to play the ball quickly, he was held down in the tackle. After receiving the penalty, the ball was collected by Kurt Kara who weaved his way through the Dog’s defenders to score a sensational individual try. Corby’s conversion ensured the Magpies would take the lead 18 points to 14.
The Dogs put in a high kick off to re start proceedings but when attempting to pick the ball up, a Magpie player knocked on. After the scrum win, the Dogs ran hard at the Magpie line. On the last tackle Dogs centre three quarter Shane Neumann found himself at dummy half. He picked up the ball, threw a dummy before running some 3 metres down the blind side to score his first try of the day. From a difficult position, Josh Reynolds potted the ball between the uprights. Dogs 20 Magpies 18.
In the next phase of play, the Dogs ran downfield gaining good field position, but in a heavy tackle they dropped the ball. The scrum was won by the Magpies, but they in turn knocked the ball on, giving the feed to the opposition. This lucky break put the Dogs on the front foot. On the last tackle they decided to run the ball again rather than put up an attacking kick. Shane Neumann positioned himself well to receive the ball before scoring his second try. Josh Reynolds took the extras, increasing the Dogs advantage 26 to 18.
Wests moved down field after the kick off and held the opposition within their own 30 metre line. After being tackled, the ball was spread across the Dogs backline to wing three quarter Heka Nanai. After a determined run down the side line, he appeared to be headed into touch, but somehow he got a ball away to replacement Daniel Harrison who scored the Canterbury Bulldogs last try of the day. Josh Reynolds conversion took them out to 32 points to 18 lead.
With 15 minutes left in the game, the never say die Magpies threw everything at the Dogs. They went close on a couple of occasions, but the Canterbury Bulldogs defense held firm.
In what was probably the try of the afternoon, Magpie prop forward Alex Ranieri received the ball on the last tackle. Summing up the situation perfectly, he put in a grubber kick which he chased at pace. The ball bounced into his hands and with 20 metres left to the try line he showed good speed before carrying a Dogs player over the try line with him. Kieran Turner added the extras to reduce the deficit to 32 points to 24.
The Mighty Wests Magpies tried to make up the points, but it wasn’t to be and in the end the Canterbury Bulldogs won the encounter 32 points to 24.
Head Coach Leo Epifania stated that he was very proud of the team’s achievements this year. Whilst he and the players were disappointed with the loss he was acutely aware that each player gave 100% and he could not have asked any more from them. He also thanked the Clubs support staff, volunteers, fans and sponsors for their support during the year. He also offered his sincere appreciation to Wests Ashfield Leagues Club, the Magpies major sponsor for their unwavering support.
In closing, the Magpies offered their congratulations to Windsor Wolves and Canterbury Bulldogs on making the 2010 NSW Cup grand final.
Scorers for the Magpies – Tries to Gus Aiga, Nua Akeripa, Kurt Kara and Alex Ranieri. Goals to Chris Corby 3 and Kieran Turner 1.
Leos best three – Rhys Pritchard, John Skandalis and Nua Akeripa.
Match Ball – player’s player Nua Akeripa.
Scorers for the Bulldogs – 2 tries to Shane Neumann, with 1 try each to Trent Cutler, Rhys Jack, Yileen Gordon and Daniel Harrison, whilst Josh Reynolds kicked 4 goals.
Best for the Bulldogs – Josh Reynolds, Brad Morrin, Nathan Smith, Trent Cutler, Tim Browne and Shane Neumann.