NSW Women edge Queensland in grand final rematch
Photo: AJF Photography
The spoils have stayed with NSW for the second time in a weekend, with the Waratahs Women matching the exploits of the men’s side the previous night ,to just about see off a dogged Queensland side 15-12 at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
In what was a rematch of last year’s inaugural Super W grand final, both sides showed why they are likely to meet in the title decider again in a few weeks time, with NSW controlling large periods of the match, but unable to break clear of a determined Queensland outfit.
Thriving off a dominant forward pack, the hosts built up a 15-7 lead by half-time. But they couldn’t find the knockout blow in the second forty, and were left hanging on by the end as the visitor’s threw everything at them in hope of a late winner.
An early touch-finder from Ash Hewson – back to her more familiar position of fullback after starting at inside centre in round one – pinned Queensland back in their own half as the home side looked to dominate on the territory front.
But it was the visitor’s who settled into their rhythm the quicker, and after several threatening surges up the right flank, they went in when former NSW no.9 Cobie-Jane Morgan took a quick tap penalty and fired wide for Alana Elisaia to power her way over.
The Waratahs Women went in search of an immediate riposte, and had a chance to get something on the board when Queensland strayed offside. However, the usually pinpoint radar of Hewson was off, and the ball fell just wide of the uprights.
But it didn’t take long for them to open their account, Hewson somehow keeping the ball in play as she fielded a box kick, and with Queensland bunched on the short side, hands down the line was enough to put Maya Stewart away on the opposite flank and she finished in style.
The home side continued to ramp up the physicality, forcing a few errors from their interstate rivals, with Grace Hamilton and Ana-Lise Sio carrying hard into traffic, while hooker Tasmin Sheppard was taking no prisoners at ruck time.
And it was a knock-on from Queensland that paved the way for a second try for the home side, as the game ticked into its second quarter. Coming infield off the scrum, flyhalf Chloe Leaupepe put a kick up to the opposite corner, and the unfortunate Lori Cramer misjudged the flight and copped an awkward bounce, and the ball sat up nicely for Shanice Parker to dab it down over the chalk.
Things got even better for the home side when Queensland prop Hana Ngaha saw yellow for not retreating 10 yards off a penalty, as Ili Batibasaga tried to catch them napping with a quick tap. And with NSW also starting to get on top at scrum time, the visitor’s were struggling to get the attacking foothold needed to resist the pressure bearing down on them.
Another scrum penalty allowed Hewson to edge her team 15-7 in front with a few minutes to go to the break, before Queensland were left frustrated when a terrific run from deep by the speedy Ivania Wong, was ended by a superb chasing tackle from the impressive Parker.
Ngaha returned a couple of minutes into the second stanza, and if Queensland could take any comfort from the situation they faced at that point, it was that they had managed to restrict their opponents to just three points while they were a player down.
And they didn’t hang about when they were returned to a full quota, flyhalf Lavinia Gould finding some willing runners to punch holes and get them to within five metres, where it took a superb steal over the ball from Batibasaga to keep the home line intact.
A well-placed clearing kick to touch from Hewson relieved the building pressure and gave her team mates a well-needed rest. But it didn’t last long, the visitor’s continuing to ask questions and stretch the NSW line, and it needed a ferocious front-on hit from Crystal Maguire to thwart another raid into enemy territory, as the clock showed half an hour to go.
That was the signal for Queensland to unleash two weapons off the bench in the shape of Sevens specialists Amy Turner and Georgina Friedrichs. The problem was, they weren’t able to get the ball in their hands often enough to utilise their natural pace and evasive skills, as NSW began to wrap their opponent’s in a blue blanket across the field.
As the game entered it’s final quarter, neither side were making much headway. Queensland were struggling to get any time in the opposition half in order to claw their way back on the scoreboard, while NSW were largely in control of matters, but seemingly unable to find the knockout blow.
And as sporting history tells us, if you don’t put an opponent away when you’re in the ascendancy, you’re liable to have them come back and bite you where it hurts.
It was through try-scorer Elisaia that the visitor’s finally got themselves on the front foot in the 66th minute, and this time they made it count. Taking possession 10 metres inside her own half, the elusive winger stepped, jinked, and powered her way a good 30 metres towards the red zone, skittling Waratahs defenders at will as she went.
And when the support arrived in numbers, NSW were short on the opposite flank and halves partners Morgan and Gould combined to put the predatory Wong over in the corner.
Fullback Cramer couldn’t add the extras from the sideline, but with a touch over 10 minutes remaining, the momentum had swung the way of Queensland, and the reigning champions would have to dig deep to maintain their unbeaten record in the competition.
It all came down to the last play of the game. Amy Turner, finally able to cut loose in open field, scythed her way through two defenders and over halfway, before chipping over the onrushing Hewson. Her path was duly blocked by the veteran fullback, not illegally according to referee Amy Perrett, and the ubiquitous Parker won the foot race to touch the rolling ball down in goal, before the chasing Wong could claim a match-winner.
So, NSW go seven from seven in Super W, and look set to finish on top of the pile and host the grand final yet again. But on this display, you wouldn’t bet against it being their old arch-rivals from north of the border that will be standing between them and another trophy in four weeks time.
NSW WARATAHS WOMEN 15 (Maya Stewart, Shanice Parker tries; Ash Hewson con, pen) QUEENSLAND WOMEN 7 (Alana Elisaia, Ivania Wong tries; Lori Cramer con) HT 15-7 at Leichhardt Oval, Sydney