Comets coach's uphill battle
CENTRAL Comets coach Wayne Barnett faces the biggest challenge of his short coaching career this week as he attempts to get his team's fading premiership campaign off life support.
The Comets will host the high-flying Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles in a home Queensland Cup semi-final at Browne Park this weekend after a 36-12 loss to the Burleigh Bears in the final round on Saturday night.
The Comets went into the match knowing they could not finish any higher or lower than third spot after the Northern Pride secured second place with an upset 29-18 win over minor premiers Souths Logan in Cairns on Friday night.
After seven defeats in their last 10 games, the Comets looked to have turned the corner when they led a determined Burleigh outfit needing to win to keep their finals hopes alive 12-8 in the second half.
But a series of defensive lapses saw the Bears race in five late tries to leave a serious question mark over CQ's title credentials.
A dejected Barnett knows his team can compete with the best in the Queensland Cup and admitted he was searching for answers.
“We've got a team that's won 13 games so it's in there we've just got to squeeze it out of them,” Barnett said yesterday.
The Comets suffered the worst possible start on Saturday night when Englishman Ian Webster rolled an ankle in the warm-up and was ruled out.
But the home side were first to score through former Queensland State of Origin hooker PJ Marsh, who was at his creative best in attack and stinging best in defence to lift the Comets in his comeback game from knee surgery.
Burleigh hit back before a Nick Parfitt penalty on half-time gave the Bears an 8-6 lead at the break when it was ruled Broncos centre Steve Michaels was taken out after a kick.
The Comets regained the lead in the second half when centre Jade Williams touched down in the corner and Nat Bowman nailed the sideline conversion before the Bears ran wild.
“The boys for 55 minutes were in that game. There were a couple of lapses in defence, they were coming home and wanted it more than us,” Barnett said.
After smashing club records to finish the regular season in third position and seal a maiden finals appearance, Barnett said his players had to rediscover their self-belief.
“It's just the attitude. We've got to make sure we're switched on and enthusiastic and want to play that 80-minute game,” he said.
“I'm excited now. I was pissed off last night, but Sunday comes around and it's the start of a new week and we've got the biggest game of the club's history in front of us.”
The Comets will tackle a NRL-loaded Sunshine Coast outfit this Saturday night coming off a final round 56-28 win over Wynnum on Saturday.
The Sea Eagles, a feeder-team for NRL premiers Manly, thrashed the Comets 46-0 at Browne Park just two weeks ago and head into the finals as the form team of the competition.
“We'll take the underdog tag into the semi-final. There's no expectations and everyone's written us off,” Barnett declared.
Tickets to the home semi go on sale at the Comets office today.