The 2023 Central North Rugby Union grand finals will played at Tamworth’s Ken Chillingworth Oval after the minor premiership-winning Pirates side defeated Gunnedah Red Devils at the same venue in the qualifying final on Saturday.

That means the preliminary finals this Saturday have been locked in to be played in Gunnedah as the Red Devils go in search of a second grand final appearance in as many years after going down against Narrabri on home soil in 2022.

This season’s two top-ranked sides went head-to-head in Tamworth at the weekend when the hosting Pirates blew Gunnedah out of the water as they reigned supreme with a 43-7 win on Saturday.

There was only one try in it at the break as the Pirates led 14-7, but the second half was all Tamworth as they piled on five tries, two of which they converted, while keeping Gunnedah scoreless at the other end to run away with a 36-point win.

Pirates winger Josefa Goneduadua caused havoc throughout the contest as he scored four tries, including the first just five minutes into the match.

Brendon Rixon booted Pirates out to a 7-0 lead after that effort and he then made it 14-0 following a 28th-minute Conrad Starr try.

The Gunnedah Red Devils’ fullback Emori Waqavulagi put his side on the board when he crossed the stripe in the 37th minute in sensational style after brushing off five defenders as he charged to the line.

Teammate Cameron Mitchell added the extras as the visitors went into the break trailing 14-7.

Goneduadua put the Pirates ahead 19-7 when he scored his second try of the game less than two minutes into the second stanza, and it became 26-7 on the 50-minute mark when Rixon converted a James Kitchener-Waters try.

The match was beginning to slip away from Gunnedah at that stage, and victory looked almost certainly out of their grasp when Jack Edwards scored the Pirates’ fifth try in the 63rd minute and

Rixon slotted his fourth conversion to make the scoreboard read 33-7.

Goneduadua completed a hat-trick five minutes later and added a fourth in the 76th minute to round out the scoring as Pirates prevailed 43-7.

Gunnedah are spending this week regrouping from that loss and they now get a second crack at qualifying for the decider when they host Moree in the preliminary final this Saturday.

Moree advanced a week earlier when they defeated the Narrabri Blue Boars first XV 34-12 on home soil in the elimination final.

The Blue Boars will also be in action in Gunnedah this Saturday when they challenge Pirates in the women’s tens competition preliminary final.

The minor premiers met Gunnedah in the qualifying final in Tamworth where they went down 15-10 in a tight tussle against the Red Devils as Matt Hannay’s side progressed to the grand final.

The two teams went into the final quarter locked at 10-all after going try for try during the opening half-hour as Gunnedah struck first in the eighth minute through Piper Rankmore and scored their second in the 21st when Stephanie Lennon crossed, and the Blue Boars’ Cassidy Morley went over in the 15th minute and the 24th.

The Red Devils delivered a match-winning blow in the 36th minute when Emmy Barr scored the deciding try to make the final score 15-10.

The home side earned high praise from opposition coach Mick Coffey as the Blue Boars president declared that Gunnedah’s performance was the best his side has ever gone up against, including in last year’s grand final when they were beaten 31-24 by a red-hot Pirates outfit.

The victory saw Gunnedah progress through to the September 16 decider, while Narrabri must now go through the preliminary final to join them.

The Blue Boars meet the Pirates in Gunnedah this Saturday after the Tamworth side downed Scone 31-12 a week earlier in the elimination final.

For the Red Devils, this year’s grand final appearance will be their third after they were crowned champions in 2019 and were finalists in 2018, both in the sevens format.

The reserve grade qualifying final on Saturday was an even closer contest than the women’s game as Tamworth Pirates prevailed 11-10 against Moree to advance to the big dance.

Moree led 10-5 at the break, but the Pirates scored two penalty goals in the second stanza to edge ahead and claim the victory.

Moree will now challenge Barraba in the preliminary final after the Rams beat Narrabri 20-10 one week earlier in the elimination final.

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