It was a warm afternoon as dedicated fans descended on Leichhardt Oval and tuned in to the live stream from across the nation, for the major semi-final between the Bears and the Rabbitohs. An anxiousness hung in the air by both sets of fans, a big game ahead with the winner progressing on to the grand final. The red & black flags were displayed with pride, the fans on the hill shielded their eyes from the setting sun and the Bears kicked off with a nail-biting 80 minutes ahead. At just over the five-minute mark, Bears swept the ball to the wing and a deflective pass from Ben Stevanovic saw Allan Fitzgibbon score the first try of the game. The kick was waived away, Bears 4 – Rabbitohs 0. Unfortunately, the following 35 minutes of the first half were dominated by the red & green running in 4 converted tries. Ill-discipline from the Bears saw five penalties blown to Souths one in the first 40 minutes. Defence was lacking and the Bunnies had the run of the park. the score stood at 4 – 24 as the teams headed to the sheds at the half time mark.

It must have been a Jason Taylor half time talk for the ages, as the team that took to the field in the second half was reinvigorated. Bears were first out on the field and sense of determination radiated. Just after six minutes in, again the ball moves quickly to the wing with an attacking Bears side, Toa Mata’afa flicks the ball to the side and Fitzgibbon nabs himself a double. The conversion is missed, and the score sits at 8 – 24. Only moments later, Jesse Marschke makes a break and streams down field. He is tackled 20 metres out but sets up a good position for Reuben Porter to bust across in the next play. Stevanovic converts, the score nudges closer at 14 – 24. The lead is brought within 10 points, and the red & black fans watching on are on their feet. Could we do this? We have before! The nerves are high. Almost ten minutes of play goes by as the ball moves from try line to try line with no movement on the scoreline. Rabbitohs are on the charge and a late tackle charge gives the opposition a penalty kick from out in front. The kick hits the posts and bounces back into play, secured by Fitzgibbon and Bears are thrown a lifeline. The boys are pumped and on the attack. For the third time the ball sweeps quickly to the wing, finding Fitzgibbon who dives for the corner and bags his third try of the game. The kick is again waived away, and the lead is within 6 points. We are back in the game with seventeen minutes remaining.

The Bears are on the charge again but a dropped ball on the try line devastates the crowd and the Bunnies are now on the attack. In desperation to take the lead, the Bears give away two crucial penalties that lead to ex-Bear Tom Carr grounding a try in the corner which is converted by an on-fire Dean Hawkins and the score extends to 18 – 30. Twelve minutes to go and the team is focused on what needs to be done. They remain composed and captain Zach Dockar-Clay pushes the boys to lift their heads and knuckle down. The Bears get the ball again into striking distance and on the 5th, Marschke puts up a bomb, it bounces backwards into a swooping Regan Hughes who charges across the try line. Stevanovic quickly converts from in front and again we are within six points of the leaders with seven minutes to go. The Bears push right to the final whistle, trying to keep the ball alive on the last play, a desperation to qualify for the grand final but heartbreakingly go down 24 – 30 in the end. An almighty second half, one that displayed true grit, determination and skill. The bunnies had the run of the field in the first half but the second was by far dominated by the Bears. Not enough to go through, but good momentum to carry the team forward to a do-or-die final this Saturdaty back at Leichhardt Oval.

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