Despite trailing 10-points-to-nil early, the North Newcastle side has booked their way through to the inaugural Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership Grand Final on the back of a 20-14 win over the Glenmore Park Brumbies.
Only one positional change featured in the final line-ups for the two sides - Glenmore Park's Alana Dell was named to start in place of lock Victoria Trist - while both both sides came together after two very different results in last Sunday's semi finals
A high-intensity start to the contest featured for the opening five minutes, before Glenmore Park came up with a big play from inside their own half to open the scoring. Hooker Talia Lealaiauloto pushed a clever inside ball to find speedster Talia Hunter in gap, with the fullback racing 50 metres to score under the posts and ensure a converted try lead.
With North Newcastle pushing the Brumbies' line, they looked to hit back; upon spreading the ball left, however, Alicia Martin came up with a monumental drop when diving over the line. The missed opportunity would be immediately compounded when Glenmore Park marched upfield, another North Newcastle error soon after giving the Brumbies the chance to score again. From the scrum, Glenmore Park pushed to the right and Sarah Togatuki threw the final pass for Monique Donovan to score.
In the Bluebags' next opportunity, it would be the Brumbies' defence which would wow the Leichhardt crowd when Hunter pulled off an outstanding trysaver on Cassie Ormsby. Caitlin Moran then earned a repeat set for her side but Glenmore Park held strong.
The women from the Hunter were working their way back into the contest, shutting down the Brumbies after a threatening Togatuki run. When Isabelle Kelly failed to take a good-looking pass down the western touch line, however, it was yet another squandered opportunity.
Hard-hitting defence continued to be a feature of the Mick Young-coached North Newcastle side, including a brutal bump into touch put on by Player of the Year Moran. They kept pushing and eventually would come away with a vital try in the final minute of the first half, the experienced Rebecca Young charging and offloading at the defensive line for Kelly to dive over untouched. With Moran's attempted conversion just falling short, a rejuvenated North Newcastle outfit trailed 10-4 heading into the sheds.
While it appeared to be North Newcastle with all the running late in the first half, the game was immediately with Glenmore Park early in the second; a strong attacking set ended in an Anneliese Hughes try. The centre scooted from dummy-half for a simple four-pointer and while the conversion attempt came off the uprights, it returned the Brumbies' 10-point lead.
After Hunter put in a grubber for herself that went close to bringing her second try, Moran took it upon herself to get her side across the line. She looked to have done just that with a typical broken-play run taking her all the way to the try line, but the in-goal referee correctly ruled a knock-on over the line. A Glenmore Park error shortly after gave the Bluebags another chance, however, and Theresa Wilhelmus barged straight into the Brumbies defence to score under the posts.
Another line-break from the North Newcastle side - this time made by Alicia Martin - exploited the Brumbies' defensive line yet again and put the team in good attacking position. A clear overlap on the opposite touch line then brought more points to Isabelle Kelly, the experienced outside back taking a chest pass from Ormsby to bag her second. With the conversion missed, scores were locked up at 14-all.
From that point, the game was evidently North Newcastle's to lose and some strong runs from Young and Kylie Hilder put them further on the front foot. Martin was then held up by some desperate Brumbies defenders but an error gave their opponents even more quality ball, Holli Wheeler charging to score in the same area as Martin had aimed for moments earlier.
With a six-point advantage and all the running, North Newcastle looked to put the game to bed but an untimely forward pass prevented them from doing so. With Wheeler soon leaving the field with a forearm complaint, it was now or never for the Brumbies.
A late attacking raid from the young Glenmore Park side kept their hopes alive, but such was the class and experience of the North Newcastle outfit to turn the Brumbies away, the margin remained at six with the Women from the Hunter earning a place in next Sunday's decider.
The NSWRL senior competitions’ finals series, covered like never before on NSWRL.com.au and the NSWRL Facebook page, culminate on Grand Final Day at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday 24 September. Be there to witness history, with tickets just $10 for adults and children under 12 free.