Written by Kevin Braysher
THEY are arguably the form teams of the competition at the moment, but nothing could separate the I Love Coffee Burleigh Bears and the Tweed Seagulls in a 16-16 draw at Piggabeen on Sunday.
The Bears trailed for almost the entire game before Khan Ahwang levelled the scores with a try and a sideline conversion in the 75th minute.
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Watching his side claw back a two-try deficit after losing halfback Ryley Jacks and second rower Louis Fanene earlier in the match left Bears coach Jimmy Lenihan very pleased.
“We wanted to prove a point,” Lenihan said.
“Last time we played (Tweed) they made us look pretty ordinary so it was a big effort for us. To lose two blokes early and finish with two guys on the bench, I thought we did really good.”
Heavy rain poured for much of the contest and both clubs lost players to injury along the way, but the healthy crowd was treated to an entertaining game of rugby league regardless.
Tweed opened the scoring through prop Pele Peletelese in the sixth minute. Peletelese and front row partner Reg Saunders were the stand outs as the Seagulls took the early momentum.
Burleigh levelled the scores in the 23rd minute when Steve Michaels powered through a number of defenders to score an inspired try under the posts, but the Seagulls finished the opening half strongly with tries to James Wood and Tom Merritt stretching the lead to eight.
The Bears had to score first after the break to stay in the contest and they did it when Conner Toia sliced through the defence to set up Ahwang’s first try in the 48th minute.
From there the Bears had the majority of the field position, while Tweed’s chances were limited but for a penalty goal in the 60th minute.
Tweed held their line under big pressure on a number of occasions, but the Bears finally got the try they needed with five to go.
Ahwang’s sideline conversion in driving rain made him the hero of the day, but it was makeshift hooker Dimitri Pelo who won the most praise from the coach for his performance.
With the likes of Matt Keating, Nafe Seluini and Matt Beddow all unavailable Pelo was brought into the unfamiliar hooking role at the last minute but managed to thrive.
“I thought Dimitri Pelo was probably our best player today,” Lenihan said.
“He came in late to play hooker and played 80 minutes for us in the middle which is a hard thing to do in a game like today.”
Seagulls coach Aaron Zimmerle admitted his side was a little disappointed to walk away with a draw, but praised the way his men responded in the face of adversity.
“The biggest thing I’ll take out of the game is how brave we were,” he said.
“Sam Saville popped a shoulder in the first half and Ayden Lee had his nose all over his face. There’s two guys that had just gone on the field that had to be subbed out immediately and then I’ve got three blokes that I won’t name publically that are playing with pretty serious injuries but they’re just battling on and dealing with the pain.
“To play a game with 15 players against a quality side like Burleigh who have scored 135 points in their last three games and to only concede 16 points, I’m pretty happy with the effort.”
Tweed have now gone nine consecutive games without defeat, but while Zimmerle is proud of what his team has achieved of late, he isn’t about to let his side rest on their laurels.
“Winning eight in a row means nothing if you don’t play semi-final football,” he said.
“A season is judged on playing finals footy and then what you do when you get to the finals.
“I put (the winning streak) down to the players. They work really hard for each other and they’ve got great chemistry as a group which is so important. If you care about the bloke standing next to you it allows you to do a lot more in the game.”
TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 16 (Tom Merritt, James Wood, Pele Peletelese tries; Jamal Fogarty 2 goals) drew BURLEIGH BEARS 16 (Khan Ahwang 2, Steve Michaels tries; Khan Ahwang 2 goals) at Piggabeen Sports.