THE Kiama Knights have qualified for their first grand final in the top grade since 1990 after the defeating the Shellharbour City Sharks 19-12 in Sunday’s preliminary final at Cec Glenholmes Oval.
The Matt O'Brien coached Knights jumped out of the blocks scoring two tries in the opening eight minutes – both through returning centre Oliver Powell.
In the fifth minute, a pass to Sharks halfback Matt Carroll flew over his head, as his side were attempting to work their way out of their own end – which was pounced on by Kiama’s Daniel Martin.
The hooker toed the ball through for Powell to win the race to the ball and plant it down under the sticks.
Cameron Vazzoler converted for 6-nil.
Two minutes later, Powell had his brace - intercepting a pass form Hans Schuster on his own 40m line, before running 60m to score.
Vazzoler failed to convert, with the lead remaining at 10.
The Sharks then settled and were unlucky not to score, as Ryan McCracken was held up by determined Knights defence.
In the 18th minute, Vazzoler extended the Knights lead to 12 - being gifted two points by referee Karra-Lee Nolan, who penalised the Sharks on their own line.
The lead was reduced to one try in the 31st minute, when the Sharks scored their first try. Quick hands from Carroll and Ian Catania put winger Jamie Manukonga over to score, despite the Knights appealing for a forward pass.
Carroll converted from right in front for 12-6.
In the final minute before half-time, Kiama’s two-try buffer was restored when Blake Rickard combined with Vaughan Thistlethwaite on the right edge.
Vazzoler converted for 18-6 at the break.
After the resumption, the Sharks had numerous chances to reduce the margin, including 23 straight tackles on the Knights line but they couldn’t break through.
Both teams battled for the ascendancy in the second half and it wasn’t until the 71st minute that points were scored.
Following a quick play the ball, a Schuster pass was knocked down by Vazzoler, only to be picked up by Carroll to score. He converted his own try for 18-12.
The Sharks pressed and nearly scored through Michael McKinley but it was pulled back for a forward pass.
The match was iced in the final three minutes when Vazzoler slotted a field goal from 20m in front.
In the win, Kieran Poole, Rickard, Josh Toohey and Cameron Whittaker were stars, while Dylan McGregor and Carroll did what they could for the Sharks.
The Knights, who chalked up their third win from four attempts against the Sharks this season, will now attempt to win their first Group 7 first premiership since 1985 when they clash with Jamberoo in Sunday’s decider.