By Damian Flint, Date: 6/8/12
The American National Rugby League’s Atlantic Conference is down to the money rounds and in the first week of the 2012 playoff series the Pennsylvania Bulls and Connecticut Wildcats reigned supreme over their opposition.
In scorching summer conditions, the Bulls ended the Northern Raiders Championship hopes with a 30-20 victory.
The Bulls started the match slowly and at the end of the first quarter the scores were locked up at 4-4. In the second quarter the Bulls started to gain momentum and headed into the halftime break with a 12 point lead.
The lead was maintained throughout the second stanza as the Raiders failed to make any significant inroads.
Kevin Wiggins and Corey Mayo were once again standouts for the Bulls, while Alejandro Valentin and John Grace were also impressive.
The heat may have attributed to the slow start by the Bulls but as coach David Niu said the win was attributed to the team’s ability to stay focused. “We struggled in the heat during the first part of the match but we stuck to our game plan and were too powerful in the end.”
The Bulls will look to continue their impressive post season form in next week’s semifinals.
In the second Quarterfinal match, the Connecticut Wildcats held off a fast finishing Bucks County Sharks outfit securing a 44-36 victory.
The Cats continued where they left off last week and it looked as though the match would be a blowout when they took a 22-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Matt Walsh and Michael Goward were once again in the thick of the action. The Wildcats duo scored five tries between them in a match that turned out to be a tale of two halves.
One Sharks player who has had no trouble rising to the occasion in recent weeks is back rower Zac Padgett. The 37-year old has turned back the clock in recent matches and the inspirational leader took up the challenge once again, scoring three tries as the Sharks surged back into contention. The fight back took the Sharks to within four points of Connecticut before tries to Curtis Cunz and that man Walsh put the game out of reach.
Sharks player/coach Phil Shipos was at a loss afterwards, struggling to come to terms with the outcome. “It was an absolute heart breaker for our boys today,” said Shipos. “It was a three hour trip to Connecticut once again in really hot conditions and we come away with a loss by just the one try. It makes you think of all the ‘what if’ moments of the game.”
And so the 2012 AMNRL semifinals are set. The #4 Sharks will have one last shot at redemption when they take on the defending champion and #1 seed New York Knights in one semi next week, while the #2 Bulls and #3 Wildcats will square off in the other playoff matchup. The winners will secure spots in Grand Final XV the following week.