CRL Newcastle have been crowned NSW Women’s premiers after a gutsy 24-10 victory over the Mounties at ANZ Stadium polished off a stellar season for the northern club.
When Simone Smith was on the receiving end of a spectacular team try late for Newcastle, fans and spectators knew it was all over. Up until that moment, however, the epic at ANZ looked to be anyone’s game.
It was the Mounties that had the first say in front of a swelling NRL crowd, as captain Simaima Taufa put Tommaya Kelly-Sines over early in the battle. Muswellbrook star Brydie Parker converted for the eventual runners-up to give them a 6-0 lead.
Bobbi Law was the first to strike back for Newcastle to level the scores, and superstar hooker Kylie Hilder – who revealed in the build-up to the clash that this title fight would be her rugby league swan song – doubled the lead ahead of halftime.
Hilder was to play another key role in the 14-poin win. After Tahlia Hunter cut the deficit to just two points in the second stanza, Hilder fired middle forward Tayla Predebon over to fire her CRL outfit back out to an 18-10 lead.
Then came twenty minutes of tough defence for the Newy women, broken up by a late sealer from Simone Smith. A linebreak from Holli Wheeler snapped open Mounties’ defence, and the Newcastle second rower handed it off to Isabelle Kelly.
Kelly broke through one tackle before pushing in-field to Mel Howard. The CRL halfback stayed cool as she hit the last defender and put Smith into space. Parker nearly caught her from the opposite flank, but Smith was able to clinch the 24-10 win.
Considering North Newcastle – the old name of the northern franchise – fell in the grand final two years ago, and Hilder was hanging up her boots, everything seemed to fall into CRL’s script for the perfect season finish.
“It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest. It’s awesome,” player of the match Holli Wheeler told nswrl.com.au after her side’s triumph at ANZ Stadium.
“We were fortunate enough to make the final two years ago and it was absolute heartbreak, we didn’t show up on the day. We knew we had to turn it around. It’s a credit to the girls and the effort we put in all year.”
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To complete the near-perfect season for Kylie was the icing on the cake.
“I’ve been telling her to go one more year for about five years now,” Wheeler said of her rake’s decision to call time.
“Massive credit to Kylie, she’s the actual reason why I’m down here playing footy. Last year when I made my Origin debut and she missed out that jersey was as much hers as it was mine because she was a huge factor in me coming down and playing.
“To be able to play an Origin with her and win a premiership with her, I’ve known her all my life and shared a lot of special memories with her, but this one is right up there.”
Watch the full grand final highlights on nswrl.com.au here.