Words: NSWRL and Simon Masterton (Twitter: @OiSimmo)
The Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks have taken out the Sydney Metropolitan Womens Rugby League premiership, thanks to a Mia Wood matchwinner at Leichhardt Oval. The Grand Final will go down as a superb advertisement for womens Rugby League in a year that has already seen it's unprecedented growth.
A dropped ball by the Tigers had the Sharks on the attack early, before an attempted intercept from Inangaro Maraeara almost brought the Greenacre side the first points.
It took six minutes for Greenacre to get out of their own half, with two penalties and some bruising Cronulla-Caringbah defence helping to build pressure nicely. The Tigers' defence held strong, however, and they soon had their own extended period in dangerous territory.
In the 23rd minute, the deadlock was finally broken thanks to a crafty play from Greenacre's Cobie-Jane Morgan - with the conversion waved away it was 4-0 in favour of the Tigers.
The Sharks were momentarily on the back foot, but when they got another opportunity to post points they made no mistake. With the representative contingent clicking into gear, it would be Sammy Bremner to get her side on the board after a slick inside ball from Allana Ferguson. The conversion attempt from Maddie Studdon hit the upright and scores remained level.
Minutes later, it would be Ferguson herself to get her side in front, showing the footwork and trademark show-and-go that has earned her NSW and Jillaroos caps. With Studdon converting the try they held a six-point advantage over their opposition.
The Tigers weren't done with yet, however, and on the stroke of half-time it would be Page McGregor to score. The prop showed her strength to break through the Sharks' defence, with the conversion Chloe Leaupepe sending both teams into the break locked up at 10-10.
When the teams got back onto the field it was all Greenacre and in the 42nd minute, Leaupepe would show great determination to reach out and score. The halfback then converted her own try to get the Tigers back in the lead.
Cronulla-Caringbah had their backs against the wall and needed something to stop the Tigers from running away with it. A Ferguson grubber for Bremner failed to bring points, but shortly after, when they were defending, Corban McGregor would take an intercept and run 80 metres to score. Studdon added the extras to even things up once again.
A wayward pass to Lisa Tauriki failed to capitalise on an overlap that could easily have got the Sharks back in front, but they backed it up with their defence; one bone-rattling hit from Courtney Yasserie, in particular, brought a big reaction from the Leichhardt crowd.
The Sharks has regained momentum, but thanks to another bombed try the scores remained even. This time a promising movement between Studdon and Mia Wood was broken down with a dropped ball, before the Tigers' Cindy Edwards dropped a bomb that would have led to a try at the other end of the field.
With the game opening up, something had to give eventually and when Sharks dummy-half Kaarla Cowan found herself in space she made no mistake in getting the ball to Ferguson. The five-eighth had too much pace from there and would cross for her second for a 22-16 lead.
Only three minutes passed before the Tigers hit back, with Grace Clarke finishing off a left-side movement that formed a significant overlap. Leaupepe missed the chance to level scores up, however, with the kick from out wide waved away. A dangerous tackle from Sharks skipper Georgie Booker soon after handed the Tigers a golden opportunity soon after, taking the two and getting scores to 22-22.
Neither side could cross the stripe again in the dying stages and at the end of the regulation 70 minutes, the game headed to Golden Point Extra Time.
With the Tigers receiving the ball from the kick-off, they were hopeful of getting into a position to take a field goal. A dropped ball from Leaupepe relinquished that chance, with the halfback surrendering position near halfway.
In the ensuing set, the Sharks took little time to come up with the try of the afternoon and seal the premiership. After an overlap saw Kate Mullaly dance down the sideline, the winger managed to pass it around a defender to her inside player Mia Wood, who crossed to end the game. No kick was taken, but the Sharks finish 2016 as Sydney Metropolitan Womens Rugby League premiers, with Cronulla-Caringbah prop Ruby Ewe voted best on ground in the decider.
Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks 26 (A Ferguson 2, S Bremner, M Wood, C McGregor tries; M Studdon goal) def Greenacre Tigers 22 (C Morgan, G Clarke, P McGregor, C Leaupepe tries; C Leaupepe 2 goals)