It took four years and their third Eastern final with the Rock but Saturday (Aug. 4) at Sherwood Forest Park before an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, the Niagara Thunder put on a display of almost flawless rugby to dethrone the defending Rugby Canada Super League champions, the Newfoundland Rock.
The Thunder’s 34-20 victory means they’ll face Saskatchewan’s Prairie Fire on Aug. 18 in Regina for the 2007 RCSL championship.
This was the Rock’s first defeat in three years and Newfoundland coach Pat Parfrey was generous in praising the Thunder performance, “That was probably the best performance we’ve seen from any opposition in the last five years.”
Thunder captain Jon Goldie echoed those comments. “Every single player on our team played a great game, there were no let-downs.”
After a somewhat tentative opening 15 minutes, in which both sides conceded penalties to put the score at 3-3, Thunder then dominated territory and possession and were rewarded with a try by #8 Dave Knowles under the posts allowing Steve Piatek an easy convert for a 10-3 edge. Not long after the restart, a clever chip by fullback Jonathan Goldie gave a kind bounce to wing Andrew Thomson, who took it almost to the try line where lock Cam Mitchell was then able to score near the corner.
Shortly after, Rock fullback Ciaran Hearn ran a Thunder kick back to mid-field but his chip was picked off alertly by Thunder’s Adam Schouten who broke their line, then passed off to Shawn Windsor who outraced the defence for Thunder’s third try. Piatek added the convert and Niagara was in front 22-3.
There was then a long period of possession and pressure by the Rock but the solid Thunder’s defence time and again didn’t allowed the Rock to cross the gain line. However, just before the break, Thunder yielded a penalty and the Rock converted their lineout into a rolling maul and then a try from #10 Dean Blanks, who also made the convert, and narrowed the margin to 22-10.
The Rock carried their pressure into the second half, camped inside the Thunder 22, but had to be settle with just three points from a penalty kick from Blanks. Immediately, the Thunder ran it up field, obtained a penalty, won lineout and drove the renowned Rock pack, allowing hooker Harry Cheung to sneak in for a try in the corner. That made it 27-13 for Thunder.
The determined Rock’s offence was stalled by an equally determined Thunder defence that featured excellent tackling, particularly from back row players Jordan Kozina and Alistair Clarke and two classy try-saving tackles from Goldie. The Rock were eventually rewarded with a try from Mark Simpson that Blanks converted and the Newfoundland squad were back in the game, trailing 27-20.
But with eight minutes remain, Goldie restarted with a long high kick to the right causing Rock fullback Hearn to mis-field the catch as he looked straight into the low sun. From the lineout, Clarke charged down the Rock clearing kick and then pounced on the ball inside the goal area. Piatek’s convert put Thunder ahead again by 14 points and victory seemed assured.
The Rock did not give up and desperately attacked with Hearn coming more into the play. But there was no way through and the Thunder would not give up this game. Final score 34-20.
Prior to the game, the Lightning, Thunder’s under 20 squad, came back from a 19-7 halftime deficit to tie the Junior Rock 19-19 and force overtime for the Under 20 Eastern championship. Newfoundland scored twice in overtime to win 31-19 and will face Fraser Valley in the Canadian Under 20 Championship immediately preceding the RCSL final in Regina.