It was an enthralling start to the Harvey Norman NSW Women's Premiership finals series at Leichhardt Oval, with two heart-stopping fixtures seeing the Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks and Mounties record victories over CRL Newcastle and Cabramatta, respectively.
The Sharks were able to halt a fast-finishing CRL Newcastle in the dying stages with a defiant 16-10 win – setting up a mouth-watering clash with the luckless Cabramatta next weekend for a place in the preliminary final.
A powerful performance from the Mounties helped them to a comfortable 24-6 victory over Cabramatta, with live-wire fullback Tahlia Hunter and fellow star Patricia Raikadroka proving instrumental in the win with two tries each.
Meanwhile, the loss has ended CRL Newcastle's season despite their best efforts to claw back from an early 10-0 deficit, with the Mounties facing off against the South Sydney Rabbitohs for a place in the Grand Final.
Cronulla-Caringbah vs CRL Newcastle
Both sides were guilty of an error-riddled opening stanza with some poor handling errors ruining their chances of a breakthrough try, but Cronulla would ensure that was short-lived after Cheyanne Hatch supported a bust through the middle-third to finish off a 90-metre try.
A Jaida White try in the 18th minute gave the Sharks a handy 10-0 lead, with their valiant defensive efforts enough to keep Newcastle at bay for the entire first half.
A Quincy Dodd intercept try early in the second-half continued the Sharks dominance as they raced out to a comfortable 16-point advantage, but a try to Tayla Predebon from close-range sparked some life into Newcastle.
A Melanie Howard try with just over 10 minutes remaining saw a frantic finish follow, but the Sharks defiant efforts in defence were enough to ensure an impressive victory.
Head-Coach Huw Ellis lauded his sides incredible goal-line defence that ultimately galvanised their victory, but is hoping they can repeat their efforts against potent Cabramatta side next weekend.
"We had to move around a ew places today because we lost one of our star players [Nita Maynard] and all the girls stood up," Ellis told NSWRL.com.au.
"Those girls just have an abundance of heart and they never give up the whole time and keep working for the person next to them.
"Defensively they were very gallant so credit to the girls."
CRONULLA-CARINGBAH 16 (C Hatch J White Q Dodd tries; J Baker 2 goals) bt NEWCASTLE 10 (T Predebon M Howard tries; M Howard goal).
Cabramatta vs Mounties
The Mounties well and truly flexed their muscles in the win over Cabramatta, proving too strong on either side of the ball in an ominous warning for the Rabbitohs.
They raced out to an early 10-0 lead with tries to Shaylee Bent and Tahlia Hunter, but Cabramatta hit-back when Teina Clark crashed over for their maiden try of the afternoon.
Their short burst of success didn't last long, however, with Patricia Raikadroka stamping herself on the game when she burst onto a perfect short-ball to extend their lead to eight just moments before half-time.
Although fighting desperately to hold-out another attacking raid from the Mounties early in the second-half, Cabramatta couldn't withstand the pressure as Raikadroka and Hunter each grabbed their second tries.
Some strong defence from Cabramatta in the latter stages ensured they wouldn't go down without a fight, but their efforts were to no avail as they look ahead to their clash with Cronulla-Caringbah.
MOUNTIES 24 (T Hunter 2 P Raikadroka 2 S Bent tries; J Williams 2 goals) bt CABRAMATTA 6 (T Clark try; K Robins goal).