THE Bathurst Bulldogs women gave coach Tuma Aisake a birthday present he will never forget on Saturday morning as they held off a fast-finishing Orange Emus to win the Westfund Ferguson Cup grand final 34-28 at Ashwood Park.
It was the third year in a row Bulldogs had been crowned champions and that they won in front of a huge crowd made it even more special for the mentor and Bulldogs stalwart.
"Never had a present as good as this, never," he said.
"And this crowd - woah - I've never seen so many people at a Bulldogs game."
Aisake was not the only one feeling emotional at full-time either.
His players had tears of joy in their eyes while for many Emus - who had come from 15 points down to get within one of the lead with just under three minutes left - it was tears of disappointment.
It's just something you dream of ... to be able to win three in a row, it's an amazing feeling.Mel Waterford
The win marked the first time since Dubbo Rhinos clinched the 2006-07-08 titles that a women's team had secured a premiership treble.
But the significance of Bulldogs beating out 14 other teams this year to do so was not lost on captain Mel Waterford.
"We've never been lucky enough to win a grand final at home before and to have people come here and support us, it means a lot to us," she said.
"It's just something you dream of. Some people are never lucky enough to play in a grand final, let alone win one. So to be able to win three in a row, it's an amazing feeling.
"Emus, they're a very tough opposition, they've got that power to strike from anywhere on the field and you can't have even five seconds of down time because they are going to come back at you and come back at you hard.
"The nerves were there all game, but I just knew our girls had trained hard all year, the fitness was there and I just knew if we could keep our heads then the game would be ours."
And keeping their heads was something the Bulldogs had to do given Emus made an early impression as they looked to add a grand final win to their minor premiership.
They kicked off, earned a penalty inside Bulldogs' 22 and then Jacky Lyden picked the ball up from the back of the ruck and launched herself over the line.
Em McDonald converted and it was 7-0 with a tick over a minute gone.
But that did not rattle Bulldogs and by quarter-time they held the lead.
Firstly player of the match - Australian sevens representative Jakiya Whitfeld - broke away down the left wing from deep inside Bulldogs half and ended up scoring under the sticks.
Then, as the siren sounded, a sweeping back line move released Bulldogs winger Kirsten Howard down the right flank.
That made it 14-7.
In the second quarter Emus equalised via skipper Stacey Britt but just as they had done 10 minutes earlier, as the siren sounded Bulldogs spread the ball to the right wing and this time Courtney Auld finished the move.
Another piece of Whitfeld magic and Howard's second try in the third quarter saw Bulldogs extend their lead to 29-14, but Emus still had fight left.
McDonald darted over a minute into the final quarter and converted her effort.
Then Lyden - who pulled off some brutal hits in defence for Emus - was rewarded with her second.
The whole year, the consistency in training, the physicality, it's been great.Emus gun Jacky Lyden.
That made it 29-28 with three minutes left and with Bulldogs a player down after Marita Shoulders was yellow carded, the pressure was in the defending premiers.
But from the kick-off Emus were penalised for off side play.
Bulldogs spread the ball left and with 1.37 left on the clock, prop Edwina Ulberg bullied her way over. It sealed Bulldogs a 34-28 victory.
Though disappointed Emus were not able to win a women's premiership for the first time since 2012, Lyden praised both her side and the victorious Bulldogs.
"It's been unreal the whole season, they're a really tough side and I also think we had the girls to do it. It was just who wanted it most today," she said.
"We wanted to come out firing and in that first five minutes we did. There were lapses in our game after that, but at the same time they just had great defence.
"But we never do give up. When we came out in that last 10 minutes it was like 'We are still in this game, let's give it everything we've got,' and that's been our attitude all season.
"The whole year, the consistency in training, the physicality, it's been great. For a lot of girls this was their first year, it was my second year. It's just a really nice unit here in our Emus side, yeah, we'll be back for another crack."
- BATHURST BULLDOGS 34 (Jakiya Whitfeld 2, Kirsten Howard 2, Edwina Ulberg, Courtney Auld tries; Jakiya Whitfeld 2 conversions) def ORANGE EMUS 28 (Jacky Lyden 2, Em McDonald, Stacey Britt tries; Em McDonald 4 conversions)
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