Nigh on 12 months ago Bathurst St Pat’s broke Orange Hawks’ hearts in the Group 10 league tag grand final but after Sunday’s incredible, extra-time, preliminary final win over Panthers the two blues have earned their shot at redemption.
For the second consecutive year they’ll face St Pat’s in the decider, this time at Cowra’s Sid Kallas Oval, after edging out the spirited Panthers outfit 12-10, a Bec Ford penalty goal in the 55th minute proving the killer blow.
Momentum ebbed and flowed throughout Sunday’s thrilling clash, which was a rematch of the qualifying final from a fortnight ago, with both sides enjoying dominant periods before finishing deadlocked at 10-all as regular time expired.
Both sides had chances in the dying stages and again early in extra-time, but were denied, before Ford stepped up and knocked over her penalty from 25 out and virtually straight in front.
With extra-time not being golden point Panthers still had opportunities to steal a victory, none better than just a couple of sets later after Ford lobbed a kick out on the full.
They almost took it too, with former Hawk Kaitlyn Phillips diving over on the right edge with just seconds to go only to be denied by a last-ditch defensive effort from two blues’ fullback Jes Pearson, who was arguably best on ground.
The ladies in black forced a repeat set, but Hawks survived the one tag the four remaining seconds allowed, the full-time whistle sparking raucous celebrations.
“There wasn’t really any nerves over the (penalty) kick, I knew we had the girls out there to put points on (even if it missed). I just thought ‘let’s give it a crack and see how we go’,” Ford said.
“There was a bit of frustration after that one went out on the full but Panthers put a lot of pressure on me late in the game, they shut me down pretty well at the end. I probably needed to get a tip on to someone there, but fortunately we were still able to get the job done.”
Ford’s kicking game in general was a big catalyst for the win, she and halves partner Em McDonald both plugged the corners well, turning Panthers around constantly.
As the saying goes a kick is only as good as its chase though and that was an area the two blues were excellent in from go to woah, something Ford pointed to as a big factor.
“We’d been working pretty hard on that at training, kicking the corners, turning them around and pinning them in their own end, just to get some momentum and field position,” Ford explained.
“We did it pretty well, we completed a lot more sets than we had been which helped, so we’ll just try to go into this week and do the same against St Pat’s.
“They’re a level above everyone else and if we make mistakes they’ll capitalise, so we’ll need to keep getting better, but we’re glad we’ve got ourselves another shot.”
The two blues looked in complete control during the first 20 minutes of the preliminary final, although they only held a 6-nil lead courtesy of Cheynoah Merchant’s first try it looked a matter of time before they’d add to that tally.
But it wasn’t until nine minutes out from full-time they actually did so, again through Merchant, and after a stunning momentum swing in the middle stages that 41st minute try actually pushed Hawks back onto level-pegging at 10-all.
Panthers had roared back into the contest and then the lead with an unexpected surge in the last five minutes of the opening half, scoring in the 21st and 23rd minutes – through Kiara Sullivan and Stacey Elvy, respectively.
With one Jess Hotham conversion the Bathurst outfit took a 10-6 lead into the break.
With Hotham and player-coach Monique Christie-Johnston pulling the strings in the halves, Panthers piled pressure on Hawks in the opening exchanges of the second period too, forcing a number of repeat sets.
One of those came after Hawks back-rower Sophi Humprhis was denied at the other end by the sideline, and it actually looked as though the two blues’ race may have been run.
It wasn’t, with Merchant’s second try locking things up just moments later. Ford’s shot was waved away.
With just a minute left in regular time Panthers had another chance but confusion reigned. Back-rower Claire Woolmington found her way over the line from close range, but thought she’d been tagged and made to move back to the mark without planting the ball down.
Her tags were actually still intact but by the time she realised, Pearson had stripped her of one, sending the clash into overtime.
Hawks had the better of the opening five-minute period of extra-time, enjoying the majority of possession and field position.
Katie Cutcliffe went within inches of scoring but she was denied by a desperate Christie-Johnston, but then Ford knocked over her penalty goal and the two blues held in the second half.
“It’s always disappointing to lose these games, especially when you go so close and have it come down to just a penalty goal,” Christie-Johnston, also one of the best-performed from either side, lamented.
“We gave it everything, Hawks scored that first try and we knew we had to lift. We did that and got ourselves the lead before half-time, we just couldn’t quite get there.
“But credit to the girls, we had to fight and we did, Hawks did too so credit to them as well.”
- ORANGE HAWKS 12 (Cheynoah Merchant 2 tries; Bec Ford goal, penalty goal) def BATHURST PANTHERS 10 (Kiara Sullivan, Stacey Elvy tries; Jess Hotham goal)
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