Kurri Kurri paid a heavy price for their crunching 39-12 win against Maitland, losing star fullback Kade Hardy with a broken leg.
Hardy, a Maitland junior, was stretchered from the ground and later transported to hospital by ambulance with a suspected broken leg.
Kurri Kurri coach Ron Griffiths paid tribute to Hardy’s outstanding contribution to the team this year in his address to players and fans in an emotion charged Bulldogs change rooms following the match.
Griffiths said the Bulldogs had shown real character to continue with the same resolve after seeing their popular and valuable teammate stretchered from the ground.
“I’ve been involved with teams when that’s happened to their player and they’ve gone in the opposite direction,” he said.
“They’ve seen something devastating happen to their teammate and they can’t deal with it.
“Today we had the mental fortitude to deal with it.
“We certainly owe Kade a large thank you. What we’ve done this year comes off the back of a lot of what Kade’s done.
“We are the only team to have won our last four games going into the semis. Momentum is a good thing but it’s about making sure we focus on next week now.
“I couldn’t be more proud of you as a coach, I love your work.”
The Bulldogs had winners across the field with Hardy and Jarom Haines causing major headaches for the Pickers from the opening minutes of the game.
Kurri’s forwards gave their backs a great platform and Maitland made their job easier with errors, penalties and poor defence.
Hooker Tom McKenzie, who played with Maitland last year, and Haines were the Bulldogs best as Kurri built on an 18-4 half-time lead to run out 39-12 winners, with evergreen half Jade Porter kicking a field goal to put the final seal on the famous victory.
The Bulldogs fans, who travelled in large numbers, were in full voice but broke from their “Kurri” chant and “Woof” war song to join the Pickers fans in giving retiring Maitland stars Luke Dorn and Dan Tilse and well deserved ovation as they left the field as players for the final time.
It wasn’t as winners, but Dorn and Tilse who were joined by their children gave Pickers and Newcastle Rugby League fans in general some great memories in the final two years of their illustrious careers across the NRL and Super League.
McKenzie said the atmosphere on the day was incredible and it was unreal to be part of his first final series in the Newcastle competition.
“I’ve been playing in the Newcastle comp now for four years in first grade and it’s my first time making the semis,” he said.
“I was at Maitland last year and it’s good to come over to Kurri, they’ve really taken me in.
“It’s an unreal feeling. The group that we’ve got here I think we can really do something special.”
I’t been really good so far, hopefully we can keep the ball rolling.”
McKenzie said it was probably his best performance to date in Bulldogs colours.
“Mitch Cullen got into me before the game saying ‘you’re best game is when you are running’,” he said..
“I thought I did that and I think it’s been my best game so far this year.”
McKenzie knocked the wind out of the Pickers sails with a brilliant solo try to score first after the break.
“I didn’t know what was going on, I just picked the ball up and managed to make a break and score a try.
“It felt pretty good.”
McKenzie said everyone’s thoughts at the Bulldogs went out to Hardy.
“He is the backbone of us, Everything we’ve done this year, Kade’s had a massive impact on,” he said.
“He is definitely a sad loss and our thoughts are with him in his recovery. We hope he has a speedy recovery and his surgery and everything go well.
“Our thoughts go to him and his family. It’s a tough time but we’ll stick tight. We’ll do it for Kade Hardy.”
The Maitland under-19s were the club’s only winners on the weekend beating Lakes United 20-18 in Sunday’s qualifying final.
They will play Western Suburbs in next Sunday’s major semi-final with a spot in the grand final up for grabs.
The Pickers reserve grade will use their second chance after being beaten Macquarie Scorpions 34-16 in their qualifying final. They now face South Newcastle in the minor semi-final
In open grade the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs will face Macquarie Scorpions in next Saturday’s minor semi-final after being defeated 24-10 by Lakes United.
Maitland’s Ladies League Tag team bowed out on Saturday going down to Lakes United 14-10.