It was certainly a game of two halves at Viking Park this afternoon as the Canberra Vikings produced a remarkable second half comeback to defeat the Fijian Drua 28-27 with a late converted try clinching the win.
The Drua lead 22-0 at half time and looked certain to be heading to Perth to face the Western Force in the Grand Final next weekend but the Vikings had other ideas as they chipped away at the Drua lead with three tries in 12 minutes, including a double to Tom Wright after the break to help them get back in the game.
The Drua looked to have done enough to hold on with a big scrum display and a try with 15 minutes to go in the second half but Test discard Tom Banks produced some magic to score with time up and give Noah Loesio the chance to win it with a conversion.
It wasn’t a great start for the Vikings after the kick off went in goal and from there it was all the Drua for the opening 15 minutes as they dominated territory and possession.
The Fijians opened the scoring with a penalty goal to Enele Tikotani after three minutes and continued to leave the Vikings on the back foot from a scrum penalty and go further ahead with a try to lock Peni Nabureitau from close range.
The Vikings had few chances in the opening twenty minutes and a break from Noah Lolesio went begging as Lachlan Lonergan was unable to hold onto the pass.
The visitors handling was brilliant at times as they stretched the Vikings defence with one handed offloads the order of the day but the Vikings scrambled well to keep their line intact.
Yet again, it was a blown chance from the Vikings inside the Fijian 22 with a penalty kicked touch in goal from Tom Banks and shortly after Fiji made them pay even further as a Bo Abra offload was intercepted by Seru Vularika who ran untouched to the line for the Drua’s second try of the day and make it 15-0.
Just before half time, the Drua showed more offload skills with their forwards getting on the action this time to leave the Vikings seemingly chasing shadows and it was hooker Tevita Ikanivere who crashed over in the left corner under the weight of Nick Frost and Pete Samu to leave the Vikings with a monumental task in the second half down 22-0.
The Vikings got the start they wanted in the second half with a try to Tom Wright with quick ball and involvement from Noah Lolesio creating the space on the left wing for Wright.
The Vikings closed the gap again shortly after with their forwards rolling up the sleeves to get stuck in and it was Angus Allen, who got a late call up with the withdrawal of Rob Valetini, who scored to make a game of it.
And for good measure, the Vikings made it three tries in 12 minutes with Tom Wright scoring his second in the corner after good build up and a change of tactics from unstructured play that played right into the Fijian’s hands. Lonergan’s conversion from the sideline made it a one-point game.
The Drua then settled and armed with a monster scrum that had the Vikings pack on skates, they kept it in tight and it was reserve hooker Ratu Navuma who burrowed over to give the Drua some breathing space with a six-point margin with 15 minutes to go.
The Vikings toiled hard to take the lead but strong Fijian defence kept them out on the line but with time almost up, the Vikings received a lifeline with a scum on their own 22 followed by a penalty to get them into the Drua half and it was Test discard Tom Banks who produced some magic to get the Vikings try and a chance of victory.
With Ryan Lonergan already subbed, up stepped Noah Lolesio with balls of steel to convert the try and give the Vikings a one-point win and send them to the Grand Final in Perth next week against the Western Force.
It looked like the Drua would run away with the win when they were up 22-0 but the seoncd half from the Vikings got them back into the game and the try from Tom Banks with time up gave them a shot at the win, which Lolesio converted.
The G&GR MOTM
They may have lost, but the nod goes to Seru Vularika. The Fijian backline was electric and some of the handling was quite simply, outrageous. Vularika scored one try and was always a handful when he got in space. Honourable mention to Tom Wright with two crucial tries just after half time.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Wright 2, Allen, Banks
Conversions: Lonergan 3, Lolesio
Tries: Nabureitau, Vularika, Ikanivere, Navuma
Conversions: Tikotani 2