Norths co-captain Jack Ahearn is confident he will return for the Devils next weekend after withdrawing at the final moment before last night’s home loss to the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
Ahearn had been battling a minor infection and was given until the end of the warm-up before deciding if he could make the clash between the second and third-placed teams at Bishop Park.
Ahearn narrowly missed out on playing in the 26-18 loss but he is on track for Saturday’s trip to Cairns as the premiers face matches on the road against Northern Pride and competition leaders Burleigh Bears.
The Devils lost consecutive regular season matches for the first time in almost three years.
The last consecutive losses came in July 2019 when a Falcons team featuring Origin players Harry Grant and Nicho Hynes won a Country Week match in Nanango.
Prior to that, the Devils’ three losses to end the 2018 season marked their last consecutive losses.
The Devils still finished the night in third place on the ladder with a 6-3 win-loss record.
The Devils fell behind the Falcons 18-6 in the 48th minute when Falcons fullback Luke Polselli scored.
But Norths, relishing the return to dry conditions, fought back with tries to winger Brayden McGrady and Kyle Van Klaveren, wearing the No.1 jersey in Ahearn’s absence.
The scores were tied at 18-all and Norths then had the best of the next 10 minutes but the Falcons edged clear with a penalty goal and a 76th-minute try to Sam Burns.
“We’ve got plenty of footy ahead of us and we know that we can improve a few things in our game,” Devils co-coach Kevin Neighbour said.
“We know that we can make better decisions in some of the important moments of the game. That’s been one of our strengths over recent seasons and it’s always needed against teams with the skill of the Falcons.”
The Devils welcomed back Broncos-contracted forward Xavier Willison for the first time since a knee reconstruction ended his 2021 season.
Willison was impressive along with his Broncos colleagues Ryan James, Rhys Kennedy and Brendan Piakura against a Falcons team with players from its Melbourne Storm affiliation.
Willison scored the Devils’ first try in the final moments of the first half, latching on to a pass from skipper Michael Sio and stretching his arm to place the ball over the line.
Piakura continues to be a threat on the Devils’ right edge, freeing his arms for a miraculous offload in the 51st minute that went to Connor Broadhurst and then to McGrady for a try in the corner.
Tyrone Roberts converted that try and marshalled the Devils downfield six minutes later when Kennedy squeezed an offload that bobbled off the Falcons and found Van Klaveren sneaking through for a sharp try.
With the Devils missing Kierran Moseley to injury, Sio started at hooker before Liam Horne came off the bench in the 27th minute and helped to drive the home team’s attack.
Tony Tumusa and Jacob Gagan paired in the centres while Broadhurst moved to the five-eighth role he held during most of last year’s premiership season.
Moses Noovao-McGreal returned to the squad and managed a quality offload in the raid that led to Van Klaveren’s try.
Earlier yesterday, the Devils’ Colts fell 28-12 to the Falcons after opening the scoring with a try to Ryan Papas in the 13th minute.
SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS 26 (Tyran Wishart, Tom Rafter, Luke Polselli, Sam Burns tries, Tyson Smoothy 5 goals) bt NORTHS DEVILS 18 (Xavier Willison, Brayden McGrady, Kyle Van Klaveren tries, Tyrone Roberts 3 goals) at Bishop Park.
Photo by Alan Drinnen