North Queensland has both the Mal Meninga Cup and Cyril Connell Cup champions for 2014 following two exciting grand final finishes at Barlow Park in Cairns this afternoon.
The Townsville Stingers won the Mal Meninga under-18s decider 22-18 against Norths from Brisbane, while a last-minute penalty goal gave Northern Pride a come-from-behind 14-12 win over the Stingers in the under-16s final.
Twenty current Toyota Cowboys NYC squad members or scholarship holders were involved in the two finals, including 12 in the starting 13 for the under-18 Stingers.
NYC forward Nick Brown won the man-of-the-match award off the interchange bench for Townsville in the Mal Meninga Cup with Cowboys clubmates Coen Hess, Kurt De Luis and Sam Smith not far behind.
The Stingers led 16-6 at half time thanks to tries from co-captains Cooper Bambling and Regan Grieve and centre Rhein Frank, and they still led by 10 inside the final 10 minutes after Richie Munchow crossed out wide.
However, Norths captain Adrian Henley kept his team in it with a four-pointer with seven to go and they remained in the hunt when Hess lost the ball over the line after a rampaging run shortly afterwards.
Rigid Stingers defence shut out a last-gasp opportunity for the Devils, sending Townsville into the national final against the NSW SG Ball Cup champions.
In the under-16s final, the Pride recovered from a shocking start that saw them concede two tries in the opening eight minutes.
Lachlan LaRosa and Campbell Duffy’s tries before the Pride had the chance to settle into the contest were followed by another to speedy fullback Marshall Hudson, but all three four-pointers went unconverted, leaving the Pride still in touch at 12-0 behind.
Quinlyn Cannon came off the bench to score a solo try for the Pride and they drew level thanks to prop Gabrial Bon’s charge from close range, followed by a conversion to skipper Jake Clifford.
The result was decided in the final minute when Townsville were penalised for being offside in front of their posts as they tried to charge down a Clifford field goal attempt.
The halfback, who won the man-of-the-match award, calmly slotted the two-pointer to delight the home crowd and win the Cairns team’s first Cyril Connell Cup.
They will face the NSW Harold Matthews finalists in the national final.
MAL MENINGA CUP FINAL: TOWNSVILLE STINGERS 22 (Rhein Frank, Richie Munchow, Cooper Bambling, Regan Grieve tries; Cooper Bambling 3 goals) def NORTHS DEVILS 18 (Keenan Yorston, Kalolo Saitaua, Denzell Heketoa tries; Adrian Henley 2, Jack Miers goals) at Barlow Park.
CYRIL CONNELL CUP FINAL: NORTHERN PRIDE 14 (Quinlyn Cannon, Gabrial Bon tries; Jake Clifford 3 goals) d TOWNSVILLE STINGERS 12 (Lachlan LaRosa, Campbell Duffy, Marshall Hudson tries).