The Newcastle Knights have fallen just short of Tarsha Gale Cup glory for the second year in a row, defeated by a fast-starting Illawarra Steelers outfit 24-12 at the new boutique Bankwest Stadium on Saturday morning.
It may have been a defeat for the Knights again in the title fight, but it’s one that Josh Potapczyk feels came down to “small inklings of luck”, as a grand final clash often is. Outside of a ten-minute barrage that the Steelers unleashed early, the game was neck-and-neck from start to finish.
“There were a couple of factors in the game that went against us, Illawarra started off like a house on fire and we couldn’t really handle the level of intensity they were playing at in the first ten minutes and two their credit they were good,” the Knights coach said.
“The pressure of the situation got our girls’ nerves up too. After that first stage, we settled into the game, but that first ten minutes of defending sucked a lot of energy out of the girls and then we were chasing from there.”
There was little the Knights could do as the Steelers came rampaging out of the blocks, as Illawarra outside backs Olivia Vale and Teagan Berry both crossed within the opening five minutes. Vale slotted the second try to give the southern side a 10-nil lead early, and Newcastle never recovered from there.
It wasn’t from lack of trying, however. Caitlan Johnston opened the Knights’ account just ahead of the half-hour mark, and Carrissa Harrison claimed a double for the defeated side.
It wasn’t enough to mount a comeback, however, as Tiana Graham, and Mikayla Kidd added to the hurt. Teagan Berry claimed her double to drive a dagger into the heart of the Knights late on, crossing the white line with a victory try less than two minutes ahead of the full-time whistle.
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Despite the second grand final defeat in as many years, Potapczyk said he was “very proud” of his young Knights side. To march into the Tarsha Gale Cup decider two years in a row showed the “talent and determination” he’d been drilling them with all year. It may have been a loss, but on the other side of the coin it’s only the beginning.
“It was a pretty close contest after that first ten minutes, and the girls didn’t stop for the full game,” he said. “You take that first ten minute period of the game and it’s basically equal. That’s all we can ask for, it was the two best teams in the competition so there’s not much to split the teams.
“There was a bit of luck that went against us, a dropped intercept early on in the game could have seen us up 6-nil but that’s what happens in grand finals – you need a little bit of luck on top of your talent to go the distance.
“My message after the game to the girls was “You’ve been here now, you know what it’s like, and we can continue onwards from here.” There’ll be a new clump of girls that we have coming in next year in the Knights system, and these stars from the final need to make sure that we build upon what we’ve created in the first two years.
“As long as the girls are holding onto those standards, we’ll be back in the final. The club is in a very good place, and it can only get better from here.”
Despite the 12-point loss, Jorja Holden and Knights captain Caitlan Johnston were named in the Women’s Rugby League Team of the Week for their efforts.
The Tarsha Gale Cup season will return in January, 2020.