It had been more than a decade since Norths had won a regular season match at Dolphin Oval and last night wasn’t supposed to break the drought.
Redcliffe had won its last seven matches and had eight members of the Dolphins’ NRL squad including Queensland Origin enforcer Felise Kaufusi and winger Tesi Niu. They had more than 500 NRL matches between them compared to 22 for Norths.
The Devils were without any fulltime players.
The Broncos withdrew their two allocated players from Norths for the rest of the season in response to the club’s midweek decision to sign a 2024 partnership with the NRL Dolphins.
And the Devils fell behind 22-6 at halftime as Kaufusi was among the players to score four consecutive tries for the home team.
But coach Dave Elliott’s team of school teachers, tradesmen, youth workers and a crane driver unleashed a second half that ranks up with some of Norths’ best moments in the club’s 90 years.
It began two minutes after halftime with former Dolphin Sam Elliott scooting 20 metres untouched off a Jack Ahearn pass to score through a scrambling Redcliffe defensive line.
Elliott had opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he pounced on Kyle Coghill’s perfect kick. Elliott played opposite Kaufusi, grabbing two tries for the first time in his Hostplus Cup career.
In the 48th minute, the Devils crossed again, this time from a scrum.
Kierran Moseley’s pass went from Coghill to Elliott, Ahearn and then to Connor Broadhurst and on to Jon Reuben for a slick try.
In the 67th minute, the Devils moved down the left side when Donovan’s cut-out pass hit centre Tony Tumusa who stepped through the tackle of NRL centre Robert Jennings and tossed a basketball pass for Manase Kaho to score in just his second match for Norths.
Kaho, a Devils junior, has returned to the club after a stint in the Canberra Raiders system.
That left the Devils in a familiar position – the scored were tied 22-all with minutes remaining. The Devils and Dolphins had drawn 30-all in this year’s second round.
Donovan, who was named player-of-the-match last night, iced a field goal with three minutes remaining after the Dolphins had sprayed their attempt wide.
In the seven-tackle set, the Devils’ backs and forwards shared the early hit-ups before the ball swung to the left and Kaho scorched 20 metres down the touchline.
The Devils centred play through the valuable runs of Jayden Stephens and Liam Horne, enabling Donovan to kick the matchwinner from 25 metres out against his former team.
Donovan had done the same for the Devils in the rain in Cairns two years ago.
Separately, his goalkicking for Norths has been astonishing this season: 34 goals from 39 attempts for a success rate of 87 per cent.
“The players had to dig deep in that second half and they showed the belief that they have,” coach Elliott said.
“We know that Redcliffe are a good team but our players were up for that challenge.
“But we still have a long way to go this season. We’ll get ourselves ready for another tough game next weekend.”
The Devils reclaimed the Kav Cup – named in honour of the late Steve Kavanagh for his stints at Norths and Redcliffe – after it had spent the last year at the Dolphins.
Norths had good players across the field last night, typified by the defensive effort that prevented Redcliffe from scoring in the second half.
Chris Sio played his first match for Norths in three years. The brother of Devils’ dual premiership favourite Michael has returned from a stint in Europe and started at lock.
Moses Noovao-McGreal started on the edge and powered on despite a nasty head clash that required serious stitching in the second half.
The front row of Stephens, Moseley and Viko Puliuvea troubled the Dolphins with assistance from bench forwards Zach Brooks, Justin Makirere and Alo Vaipulu.
Earlier in the day, the Devils had a bright start in the Hastings Deering Colts match before competition leaders Redcliffe won 42-8.
Brandon Norris scored the first try of the match for the Devils in the ninth minute before the Dolphins scored the first of their seven tries. Three of those tries came late to inflate a scoreline that had better reflected the closeness of the match.
HOSTPLUS CUP: NORTHS DEVILS 23 (Sam Elliott 2, Jon Reuben, Manase Kaho tries, Bryce Donovan three goals, field goal) bt REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS 22 (Sheldon Pitama, Felise Kaufusi, Connor Williams, Jeremiah Simbiken tries, Cody Hunter 3 goals) at Dolphin Oval.
HASTINGS DEERING COLTS: REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS 42 (Will Cahill 2, Sully Hoad 2, Taniela Otukolo, Will Starling, Blake Dawes tries, Hoad 7 goals) bt NORTHS DEVILS 8 (Brandon Norris, Alex Gill tries) at Dolphin Oval.
Photo by Alan Drinnen