THE Stroud Raiders came agonisingly close to clinching the Newcastle Hunter Rugby League C grade title in a thriller at Newcastle’s Harker Oval on Saturday.
After romping past Gateshead in the major semi final two weeks earlier to be the first team into grand final, Stroud were deserved favourites and took the early lead through a penalty goal to Jason Power.
Minutes later Clint Osborne spotted a hole in Gateshead’s line to take the score to 8-nil.
The Raiders opened up a 14-point buffer when Power swooped onto a loose ball and busted the line before passing it to Jake Kerr who scored near the posts.
But the Zebras rallied and just before half time took the lead 18-14.
A rejuvenated Raiders needed to be first to score after the resumption of play and after a lengthy lead-up Mitch Young collected a long ball and crossed to level the scores.
The match continued to ebb and flow, with the Zebras crossing again before Kerr scored his second.
Time was running out. A mistake from a kick gifted the Zebras possession deep in the Raiders half and Gateshead capitalised on some tiring defence to score.
With two minutes left and everything to play for Johnny Garnham produced arguably the hit of the season.
Garnham knocked out his opposite number with a massive front-on tackle that dislodged the ball.
Play resumed after a short break and the Raiders immediately went on the attack.
Switching the ball from the open side to the blind, Jake Kerr stretched over the line to plant the ball down, but was denied by the whistle of the referee.
Ruling Kerr to be held up, the referee awarded possession to the Zebras who quickly ran the ball into touch to take the match 28-24.