A hat-trick of tries from Kalifa Faifai Loa steered the Tweed Heads Seagulls to an impressive 29-26 victory over Intrust Super Cup front-runners the Northern Pride on Sunday.
The former Cowboy scored all three of his tries in the first half – and had a fourth disallowed when he lost possession just short of the line – as the Seagulls stunned the Pride by taking a 22-4 lead into half time.
Faifai Loa’s third try in the 40th minute was arguably the defining moment of the match, coming just moments after the Pride’s Davin Crampton had a try disallowed by the video referee for an obstruction.
The Pride’s only moment of joy came in the opening exchanges when a delightful pass from Justin Castellaro paved the way for a Semi Tadulua try and an early 4-0 lead.
The northerners, who were without Cowboys trio Cameron King, Robert Lui and Ethan Lowe, were the much better side in the second half, with a powerful run from Ben Spina resulting in a try under the posts to kickstart a comeback from the visitors.
When a clever kick from Shaun Nona found an unmarked Tadulala, the Pride had suddenly cut the Tweed’s lead to 22-16.
But the Seagulls regained their composure and pushed their advantage back out beyond a converted try thanks to Tom Merritt, who showed a blistering turn of foot to score after brilliant lead up work from Blair, Ben Ridge and Blake Anderson.
A Michael Burgess field goal iced the win, although the Pride did cut into the lead with late tries from Kyle Feldt and Crampton.
The loss dropped the Pride from first to second on the Intrust Super Cup ladder, although they have a game in hand over new leaders Ipswich.
“Our first half was really disappointing, but after the break we got our energy back,” coach Jason Demetriou said.
“We needed to do less thinking and have more energy.
“The guys had to get back to really enjoying the sport and I think they did that. I want them patting each other on the back.”
Meanwhile, the Mackay Cutters remain in 11th position, four points outside the top five, after beating the winless Sunshine Coast 22-12 at Stadium Mackay on Saturday night.
Cowboys front-rower Sam Hoare crossed in the second half for the Cutters who led 16-6 at half time.
Mackay Cutters coach Kim Williams was happy with the win, but made it clear there were some areas for improvement.
"We had a good result, but I'm not overly happy with our performance,” Williams said.
“I think we made it a lot harder on ourselves than it should have been. They (Sunshine Coast Falcons) are definitely not a team to underestimate.”
TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 29 (Kalifa Faifai Loa 3, Tom Merritt, Cory Blair tries; Blake Anderson 4 goals; Michael Burgess field goal) def NORTHERN PRIDE 26 (Semi Tadulala 2, Davin Crampton, Kyle Feldt, Ben Spina tries; Kyle Feldt 3 goals) at Piggabeen Sports Complex.
MACKAY CUTTERS 22 (Liam Taylor, Josh Benjamin, Sam Hoare, Mitch Day tries; Liam Taylor 3 goals) def SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS 12 (Brenton Stonier, Rueben Baillie tries; Ryan Hansen 2 goals) at Stadium Mackay.