By Damian Flint, Date: 13/8/12
The 2012 American National Rugby League championship game will be contested between the New York Knights and Connecticut Wildcats after both teams were victorious Saturday in the Atlantic Conference playoffs.
In the first semifinal, the Connecticut Wildcats came from behind to snatch a thrilling 38-32 victory against the Pennsylvania Bulls.
The Wildcats got off to a perfect start scoring the first try before complacency set in and the Bulls gained the upper hand for the majority of the game.
In a match that was destined to be a close affair, there was little separating the two teams as they headed into the halftime break deadlocked at 16-16.
The Bulls came out firing after the break and when they had extended their lead by 12 points in the fourth quarter, the match looked to be in the bag, and a Grand Final appearance seemed ominous.
The Wildcats, however, had other ideas and their left side attacking edge consisting of USA Tomahawks Curtis Cunz and Salesi Tongamoa, along with Dustin Umeda and Mike Schacter, led a three-try resurgence in the final 10 minutes of play that sealed the win and cemented back to back Grand Final appearances.
Best on ground for the Cats were Gareth Gibbs, Cunz, Schacter, Mike Goward and Matt Walsh, while the Bulls were well served by captain Bryan Confer, Alejandro Valentin, Wes Haughton, and Ben Kelly.
The Wildcats attributed the win to their improved defense and the leadership qualities of some key players. “I credit the win to the direction provided by Mick Mulvhill and Matt Walsh out their today along with our defensive efforts which certainly has improved,” said the veteran Cunz.
Despite falling just one win short of a Grand Final appearance, Bulls skipper Bryan Confer was full of praise for his players. “I couldn’t be a more proud captain today,” he said. “Although we lost, I consider the season to be a success for the PA Bulls.”
Confer was also able to pinpoint the moment in the match when his troops started to become undone. “The game came down to the fourth quarter and the Wildcats wanted it more.”
In the second semifinal, the New York Knights strengthened their championship hopes with a polished 52-4 victory over a determined Bucks County Sharks outfit.
The Sharks got off to a great start scoring the opening try of the game.
The joy was short-lived however, as the Knights piled on try after try to take a commanding 24-4 lead at halftime.
Leading the way for the Knights was lock Andrew Moody. The New York custodian was one of many try scorers as his team ran away with the match scoring 28 points in the second stanza.
What may appear to be a lopsided affair, the scoreline didn’t provide the most accurate reflection of the fierce encounter.
As Knights president Rob Balachandran said, the scoreline didn’t reflect the toughness of the game. “It was a hard hitting match out there tonight,” said Balachandran.
“The Sharks kept coming; they never gave up – full credit to them.”
The Knights will look to win back to back championships when they play the Wildcats next week in the AMNRL Grand Final XV.