Sean McMahon has crashed Queensland’s grand farewell for a host of departing Reds stars, leading the Melbourne Rebels to a nailbiting 31-28 Super Rugby victory on Friday night.
The Wallaby back-rower played like a man possessed in his return from injury, scoring a first-half double and setting up another try as the Rebels held on despite a late Reds comeback fuelled by two gallant tries from Liam Gill.
Gill, Greg Holmes, Ben Daley, Saia Fainga’a and Curtis Browning were all playing their last games for the Reds, with all five moving either interstate or overseas next season – and the talk all week was that their teammates wanted to send them out on a high note.
Instead they produced arguably their worst half of a rotten season as the Rebels scooted to a 24-7 halftime lead, which eventually proved unassailable.
Only 14,126 were on hand at Suncorp Stadium on a hollow night for the Reds, more evidence of how much work they have to do both on and off the field to return as a rugby force.
Melbourne were saying goodbye to one of their own, foundation player Luke Jones, who will play for French club Bordeaux next year.
It took them just 102 seconds to hit the scoreboard as McMahon broke free to set up winger Tom English, who blew past Queensland’s left-side defence on his way to the line.
A Jack Debreczeni penalty made it 10-0 soon afterwards, before Nick Frisby provided the Reds’ reply from the back of the scrum to narrow the margin.
But McMahon, who ran for 112m in the first half alone, then struck for his two tries, both coming in the space of five minutes – the first after breezing through Reds front-rowers Andrew Ready and Sef Fagaase, the second on the back of a bullocking run from prop Toby Smith.
Gill scored his first in the 48th minute and then the Reds comeback looked on nine minutes later, when a smart inside ball from Frisby set up star centre Samu Kerevi to score next to the posts and make it 24-21.
But Duncan Paia’aua’s attempt at a clearing kick from only a few metres in front of Queensland’s defensive tryline was charged down by Nic Stirzaker, who gathered the scraps and then touched down to score a moment later.
Gill produced more magic from the back of the ruck in the 69th minute to keep the Reds in touch, but try as they might the Reds couldn’t find another.
Holmes, who departs as Queensland’s second-most capped player of all time, said the defeat won’t take the gloss off his career with the Reds.
“I’ve got over 10 years of memories here,” he said.
“You remember the bad ones as much as the good ones.
“We didn’t get a result tonight but that’s nothing in the bigger scheme of things. I’m just very pleased and happy with what I’ve achieved here.”
McMahon said he was “stoked” to finish the season with his first career double and believes the Rebels are making firm progress as a side.
“There’s definitely positive signs, every year we’ve gotten better and better and next year we’re going to keep building and hopefully we will be a finals side,” he said.
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