The Waratahs claimed their second straight Newcastle and Hunter Rugby women’s title with a 45-12 victory over Maitland at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday evening, closing out an undefeated season in silver-tinted style.
Maya Stewart and Tia Tauafao were the first to strike for the defending champions, firing the ladies in red out to an early 10-0 lead.
Maitland found their way back into the contest through Britney Duff, but a third five-pointer through eventual player of the match Maryann Utai – and the added kick from Tahlia Goldsmith – gave the ‘Tahs a 17-5 lead at half-time.
From there, the 33-point champs were near unstoppable.
Utai and Stewart both struck early in the second half for their doubles, and Goldsmith’s kicks fired the ‘Tahs to a 31-5 lead. Meagan Casserly grabbed one back for the Blacks to cut the deficit to 19, but the champions weren’t done yet.
Toyah Nicholas bulldozed over late on to add five more points to the tally, before Tahlia Goldsmith earned her own try with a long-range effort. The playmaker took a quick tap from a penalty, cutting through Maitland’s line to ice the game 45-12.
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While the individual plaudits of best on-field went to Tahs rookie Maryann Utai, the finals hero said she believed the team’s unity – and a hefty helping of valuable lessons from coach Kaveiloni Vikilani – was what got them over the line.
“Loni is real, the team is like a family that he’s built. He’ll tell us how it is, what we need to work on and what we’ve improved on, and that’s what you need. He never sugarcoated it, but he did it in a loving way, and it worked so well,” she said.
“I had some things that I wanted to work on from the previous game against Hamilton [which ended 24-24], so it was great to go out on the field, leave everything on the line, and get the recognition for that with the player’s award.”
There were a few times in the undefeated season that the Waratahs weren’t sure if they could go back-to-back, however. With player shortages, injuries, and shifting positions, it was an “interesting” season overall, Maryann said.
“Sometimes we’d get to the game and we’d be a few short, thinking ‘oh are we going to make it?’ so it’s been a battle in the season. A few times the forwards have had to come in and play as backs, so it’s been interesting,” she told the Chronicle.
“It feels good to get to the end and get the rewards. It feels amazing.”
For the Blacks, who had scored a major upset over the Hawks the weekend before to earn their place in the decider, their difficulties came when facing up against the Waratahs’ massive forward pack.
“Our line speed was great but we weren’t making the commitment to the tackle,” Maitland coach Kelly Sager told the Herald after the final.
“When you are playing against a team with 120-kilogram props it’s very difficult. I thought our girls dug deep and I don’t think the scoreline was a reflection of the game.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the girls. They have learned a lot. If we can keep some around to steer the young ones, we will be back bigger and better next year.”
The next Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union women’s premiership season will begin in April, 2020. The Women’s Summer 7s competition is also expected to again be held next year, starting in early February.