TWO stunning comeback wins and a spirited grand final performance from the Napranum Bulldogs won the hearts and minds of spectators at Bamaga’s Dan Ropeyarn Cup.
While they were soundly beaten 44-10 by Malu Kiwai in Sunday night’s final, the journey to get there was the talking point at Cape York’s biggest footy carnival.
Led by 47-year-old club legend Jason “Shorty” Nixon, who had to be the oldest player at the carnival, the Dogs were able to defy the odds twice to earn a spot in the big dance.
In the quarter final against FNQ Balaz, the Western Cape team was down 14-4 before scoring four tries in the last 10 minutes to win 20-14.
It was even more dire in the semi-final against Eagles United.
The Bulldogs team trailed 16-0 at half-time and then 20-0 early in the second stanza.
But these dogs don’t lie down.
One try led to another and with 10 minutes left they had the Eagles on the back foot.
Leading 20-12, the Eagles opted to take a shot at a penalty goal to make it a 10-point margin.
Napranum caught their breath and continued their fightback, scoring twice more to level it up with 90 seconds left on the clock.
In the earlier rounds of the carnival, teams that scored first were awarded the points, however, in the semi-finals, extra time would be played.
The Dogs simply had to complete one set to extend the contest.
Not content to give the Eagles a chance in golden point, the Bulldogs went on the attack in the dying seconds, with a clever chip and chase at the halfway mark opening up the defence, allowing Napranum to get within field goal range.
However, they were denied a chance to have a shot when a tackle caught a Bulldogs player around the neck, resulting in a penalty.
From about 35 metres out and directly in front, Charles Murgha made no mistake, giving the Dogs a 24-22 win and a spot in the grand final.
Their run ultimately ended in the decider by a Malu Kiwai team that had fresher legs and more experience.
The Boigu Island side was full of players from the Cairns District Rugby League competition and also included former NRL player Davin Crampton.
They also played one less game on Sunday as Old Mapoon Descendants couldn’t field enough players in the quarter final.
Malu Kiwai raced to a 16-0 lead in the grand final and looked like they would put 60 on the board against a tiring Napranum side.
However, the Bulldogs’ fight came to the fore again.
They scored the next two tries through Kyle Whitton Bates and Jakai Dixon to get the margin back to 16-10.
The Torres Strait team, however, responded strongly.
Malu Kiwai put on several late tries to blow out the scoreline.
Nixon, who has no plans to hang up the boots just yet, said he was incredibly proud of his players.
“We’ve been coming here for the past three years trying to do something special and this year we were able to,” he said.
FINAL DAY RESULTS
QF1: Malu Kiwai d Old Mapoon Descendants (game not played due to a lack of available players).
QF2:Bamaga Roos 6 drew with Injinoo Crocs 6 (Bamaga advanced due to scoring first try).
QF3:Eagles United 18 d New Mapoon Warriors 12.
QF4: Napranum Bulldogs 24 d FNQ Balaz 14.
SF1:Malu Kiwai 26 d Bamaga Roos 0.
SF2: Napranum Bulldogs 22 d Eagles United 20.
Women’s GF:Pioneer Dames 20 (Tries: Vicky Songoro 2; Rose Baira, Alanah Phineasa; Goals:Ruth Neliman) d Jillaroos United 8 (Tries:Ellie Clarke, Leandra Newman).
Men’s GF: Malu Kiwai 44 (Tries:Basu Gibuma 2, Raymond Baira 2; Matty Gibuma, Eddie Daniel, Kurt Jackson, Alphy Waireg; Goals: Stan Daniels 5, Charles Baira 1) d Napranum Bulldogs 10 (Tries:Kyle Whitton Bates, Jakai Dixon; Goal: Charles Murgha).