DEPARTING Young captain-coach Luke Branighan turned on a football master-class as the Cherrypickers ditched Kangaroos from the Group Nine finals on Saturday.
In the dying days of his tenure at Young, Branighan was at his sublime playmaking best to lead the team to a dominant 48-14 victory in the elimination final at Equex Centre.
Absolutely revelling in the sudden-death finals atmosphere, the 34-year-old halfback ripped the heart and soul out of Roos in an inspired display.
With Young fighting for the survival, Branighan created three tries with superb kicks – and scored a try as well – as Young blazed out to a 22-0 lead in the opening 24 minutes.
As much as Roos hit back to trail 22-10 at half-time, Branighan stepped up to repeat the carnage in a rousing start to the second half.
By the time he had finished showing Young what they will be missing 2016, Branighan had elegantly steered the team to an unassailable 32-10 lead in the 53rd minute – and put Kangaroos out to pasture.
A year after Roos dumped Young from the finals in the corresponding game, the Cherrypickers returned serve in stunning style on Saturday.
And Branighan is adamant Young’s run in the finals will not be short lived.
“I’m very happy,” Branighan said. “I’ve said all along we’re a chance.”
Despite two victories over Young in the premiership rounds, Roos were treated to a football lesson on Saturday.
With Branighan in full cry, the Cherrypickers carved up Roos in a sickening way.
The clock had barely started when Branighan chipped across field for winger Jayson Smith to score the first try.
The script was much the same as Branighan played puppeteer for fullback Tui Samoa and winger Jake Veney to also score.
In between, the skipper pounced for a try off a lovely grubber kick from incoming coach Neil Thorman.
The key position players – Branighan, Thorman and Samoa – had a field day, but the Young forward were outstanding, creating a perfect platform.
Branighan and Thorman had a hand in two tries in the second half, while Samoa was almost unstoppable when he ran in traffic.
Roos, however, made simple mistakes and failed to make important tackles.
Still, second rower Nathan Campbell, hooker Zac Graham and centre Lachlan Cuell shone for the losers, but the winners had a list of high achievers, none better than the skipper, Samoa, Thorman, Matt Wakefield and Nick Hall.
YOUNG 48 (T Samoa, J Smith, M Murray, J Veney, L Branighan, T Leadbitter, N Hall, M Wakefield, L Williams tries; N Thorman 6 goals) d KANGAROOS 14 (L Duffy, W Lloyd, N Campbell tries; A Hall goal)
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