SUPER W: Hewson kicks NSW Women to glory in dramatic grand final
Photo: Karen Watson
NSW Women have claimed the inaugural Buildcorp Super W title with a thrilling extra-time 16-13 victory over Queensland Women at Allianz Stadium. Veteran skipper Ash Hewson was the star, her penalty kick the golden point winner for the home side to back up the match-saving tackle she put in near her own goal-line in the closing minutes of regular time, in what was a terrific advert for women’s XV rugby in Australia.
It was a tense and nervy start from both sides, Queensland looking to free their ball runners and open the game up, New South Wales happy to shut them down and grind their way into the contest.
Zahara Temara had the first opportunity to break the deadlock five minutes in for the visitor’s. The 20-year-old was making her starting debut at flyhalf, with usual no.10 Lavinia Gould shifting to openside flanker, in what was an intriguing tactical switch from Queensland coach Michael Hayes. But her accurate penalty attempt after New South Wales were pinged at the breakdown, fell just shy of the uprights.
Four penalties conceded by NSW in the opening 10 minutes didn’t help them settle into any rhythm, with Queensland enjoying the better side of the ledger in terms of territory. But a sliced clearing kick from Reds fullback Sam Treherne finally gave the home side a chance to flex their attacking muscles.
A nice lineout take from Inge Visser was swept infield, and when Shanice Parker was felled with an unintentional high shot by Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea as she slipped in contact, NSW captain Hewson never looked like passing up her opportunity to claim three points off the boot.
That seemed to bolster the hosts, who slowly began to come out of their shell and make some inroads with ball in hand. Another lineout was the catalyst for their next assault, neat handling down the line releasing centre Crystal Maguire for a searing run, only for the chasing Lefau-Fakaosilea to make amends for the earlier misdemeanour with a try-saving tackle.
But just as NSW looked to be turning up the heat, they were hit with a sucker punch. Looking to create something off another set-piece on the Queensland 10-metre line, scrumhalf Cobie-Jane Morgan fired a pass infield for Grace Hamilton, only for Gould to pluck the ball from the air like a thief in the night, and race half the length of the field to put her side in front.
Temara couldn’t add the extras, but it was the visitors who held a narrow advantage as the game entered the second quarter. They also staked an early claim for ‘hit’ of the match, if not the entire tournament, when the diminutive Morgan spotted a few forwards out of the line and charged, only to be floored by a thunderous hammer blow from tighthead Wynona Baice. It was brutal.
She was at it again a couple of minutes later, knocking both Emily Robinson and Ariana Kaiwai backwards as they tried to carry from their own half, and there was just a sense that – in open play at least – the Queensland forwards were shading it in the physical stakes. Time and again NSW were guilty of poor ball retention at ruck time, and they were losing the battle on the floor in both attack and defence.
But successful as it was proving to be, the visitor’s confrontational approach was towing a fine line at times. And another high shot from Alexandra Hargreaves five minutes before the break, allowed hot-shot Hewson to edge her troops back in front 6-5.
She got a chance to do it again after the siren, when the ubiquitous Lefau-Fakaosilea was isolated and pinged for holding on. But her saving grace was the location of her crime near halfway, Hewson’s long-range effort falling short and ensuring a one-point margin as both sides took a well-earned rest.
They returned with renewed vim and vigour after the break, and the ferocity of hits didn’t abate. The industrious Taz Sheppard hurled the dangerous Treherne into touch on one flank, before Ivania Wong returned serve for Queensland on the other, with a ball-and-all tackle on the advancing Parker.
But the Reds tenacity at the breakdown was still a point of difference, and another steal on 46 minutes proved very costly for the home side. Kaiwai was turned brilliantly in the tackle by Kirby Sefo on the Reds 10-metre line, opening the door for Hargreaves to pilfer superbly off the deck, spin in contact and offload one-handed to Nareta Marsters.
The powerful centre seized her chance, putting in a fend to the face of Ash Hewson that won’t be in the veteran’s highlight reel, before showing she’s no slouch in a foot race either to race home from halfway and put the Queenslanders back in front.
Again, Temara couldn’t add the extras but momentum was firmly with the visitor’s, New South Wales having to dig deep as the confidence bursting through the Reds threatened to take the game away. And as the game ticked into the final quarter the attrition rate took it’s toll, with the gargantuan efforts of Baice and Robinson respectively, rewarded by an early bath.
The fresh legs did their job in providing renewed impetus for the home side first. Going back to basics they decided to target the heart of the Queensland defence, pick and go’s the order of the day with Evelyn Horomia and Melissa Fatu to the fore, as the wave of blue jerseys put together 12 phases to earn a penalty a few metres from the opposition line.
Quick-thinking from Shanice Parker – a tap-and-go and dart under the posts catching the Reds napping – looked to have got NSW the try they craved, only for referee James Quinn to rule she hadn’t taken it from the mark.
The ameliorating factor for NSW was the yellow card shown to Lavinia Gould for a deliberate offside, and in a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, they persisted with their up the jumpers approach from the ensuing scrum. Grace Hamilton softened the line with a strong carry, before the explosive Fatu rubber-stamped her impressive cameo with the decisive touchdown from a metre.
Bolstered by the temporary extra body, New South Wales began finding gaps in the Queensland rearguard. The forwards were starting to make easy metres, while the backs were chipping in at every opportunity to put their hands to the wheel as well, and the possession stats in the 10 minutes since the hour mark read 91% in favour of the hosts. The Reds needed to hang tough.
That they did so is testament to their resolve and refusal to lay down, and when they returned to a full complement with Gould’s repatriation, they wasted no time in chasing down a late match-winner.
Flooding into the NSW 22 they sniffed blood, and another breakdown penalty gave them the chance to level the scoreboard at 13-all, with a few minutes still on the clock to go for glory. But replacement scrumhalf Ana-Maroa Afuie sought immediate riches.
She tapped and went herself before firing it wide, but when the ball arrived into the hands of Lori Cramer with the line open, she inexplicably turned back infield and towards traffic, and a knock-on let the home side off the hook.
But the drama was only just beginning.
An extra four minutes of injury time were announced, but that didn’t seem to reach the ears of NSW, who began celebrating when the ball was kicked into touch after the full-time siren, only to be told the good news.
Their indignation was only fuelled from the next play, a lineout swung infield by the Reds, and ref Quinn blowing for an offside penalty. This time, heads overcame hearts and captain Kirby Sefo pointed to the posts, Temara cooly stepped up to dissect the uprights with her first successful kick of the match, and it was all-square.
And it was as this drama was playing out, with the tension rising, hearts in mouths, and fatigued bodies beginning to cramp up and shut down, that one stoic figure stood up and sensed her moment had come.
At 38-years-old, Ash Hewson is a veteran of three Wallaroos World Cup campaigns who has seen it, done it and got several tee-shirts along the way. But even she would have struggled to write the script for the next 10 minutes of her stellar rugby career.
The final period of regular play saw the Reds cut loose, suck in some tired NSW forwards, and swing it wide for Lefau-Fakaosilea to finally shrug off her blue blanket for long enough to free Sam Treherne for a run to the corner.
But just as the 24-year-old speedster looked to repeat the dose she served up to NSW in the closing moments of the Brisbane Tens final, there was Hewson to redeem her earlier hand-off by folding her young protege in half, and pile-driving her back into the Allianz Stadium turf. We had golden-point extra-time in the grand final.
Poor ball retention from NSW as they received the kick-off gifted Queensland possession, only for a knock-on and a penalty in quick succession to release the pressure valve and leave the Reds defending a lineout just inside their own half. From there, NSW built 18 phases as they undertook another slow march into the opposition red zone, only to knock-on themselves as the first half of extra-time ended.
With the crowd swelled by early arrivals for the Waratahs v Lions match later that evening, both sides had the perfect stage to go out and seize the day. But the tension was stifled momentarily by a horrific-looking arm injury to NSW replacement Katrina Barker, who thankfully – and bravely – got up and walked to the sideline nursing an elbow that had briefly defied physics.
Neither side could find a breakthrough after the restart. However, with the final siren of the match sounding and the unedifying spectacle of joint-winners looming, an error of judgement at the breakdown gave NSW the crucial penalty, and Hewson stepped up to break Queensland hearts, and make history as the first woman to lift the Buildcorp Super W trophy.
For such a hugely enjoyable and impressive inaugural competition to finish in such a manner was befitting. This grand final was combative, passionate, pulsating, thrilling, and dramatic, and both sets of players and coaching staff should take a bow for their efforts. It was the perfect advert for women’s XV rugby in this country, and a validation of the creation of Super W. Bring on Season 2!
NSW WOMEN 16 (Melissa Fatu try; Ash Hewson con, 3 pens) defeated QUEENSLAND WOMEN 13 (Lavinia Gould, Nareta Marsters tries; Zahara Temara pen) AET. HT 6-5