Following a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” the past few months, the Newcastle Hunter Region Knights women’s tackle side are the 2021 Country Champions.
The Russell Grigg-coached outfit put defending titleholders Riverina Bulls to the sword 38-0 in a dominant performance at McDonald’s Park, Wagga Wagga, on Saturday.
“It was a good day,” he said.
“The girls definitely saved their best performance for the grand final.
“The feeling of winning the Country Championship is a rewarding one because they’ve all worked so hard over the past 20 weeks.
“To just be in the decider was an amazing achievement but to show up and play like that, the feeling was surreal.”
Despite playing a powerhouse like Riverina, Grigg admitted he was “quietly confident” in the lead-up to the showdown.
“The way we prepared and trained on Friday night assured me the girls would show up and have their minds on the job,” he said.
“This group is something special.
“And, this game meant everything to them.
“That was evident because they were all in bed by 9 the night before,” he added with a laugh.
“Their reaction afterwards was one of reward and excitement.
“However, I will give a little mention to Lacey Hickson and Harmony Liddell, who tipped the whole Powerade drum over me – hitting me in the head in the process.
“They partied all the way home and continued into the night as well.
“So, they really enjoyed that win.”
Grigg said keeping a team like the Bulls scoreless was the most pleasing aspect of the triumph.
“The energy and desire in defence was a credit to the frame of mind they were in,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“Late in the match, Riverina made a break.
“But, the effort of Phoebe Desmond to run the player down was great.
“However, to see all the girls push themselves to get back onside, and set, before Riverina played the ball was amazing.”
The Knights hardly put a foot wrong as they controlled the middle of the field through their physicality and were steered around expertly by halfback Ashlee Harvey.
Margaret Watson opened the scoring for the “underdogs” after she picked up the ball from dummy half and caught the markers napping to touch down underneath the posts.
The Bulls struggled to hold on the ball and continued to make errors early in the tackle count, ensuring the Knights maintained good field position.
A handling mistake from Bulls’ centre Elise Smith gave their rivals a scrum 30m out from the tryline and Christa Smith made it count as she crossed down the left edge.
A penalty for a high tackle gave the Knights an opportunity to add an extra two points and halfback Ashlee Harvey duly obliged.
The Hunter-based team continued to play the first half entirely in their attacking half as they piled on the pressure.
A crash ball to prop Emma Young ensured the Knights converted their dominance into points.
Singleton’s Desmond added a fourth try just seconds before the break as she crashed over the line from close range.
Harvey once again added the extras, as the Knights had one hand firmly on the trophy with a 26-0 lead at the interval.
Newcastle didn’t miss a beat afterwards and had the perfect opportunity to continue their scoring spree when Riverina fullback Sophie Gaynor was unable to defuse a towering kick, which gave the Knights a full set just metres out from the tryline.
Liddell showed late footwork to weave her way through the defence and extend the margin.
Gaynor continued to get targeted with the high ball and another knock-on gave opposing No. 1 Amy Broadhead the opportunity to score.
Harvey maintained her meticulous form with the boot to kick her seventh consecutive goal.
Riverina winger Janjan Ravu provided the Bulls their best opportunity of the match in the dying moments as she sprinted down the left touchline but was eventually tackled by desperate Newcastle defence.
In good field position, five-eighth Bailey Porter put in a grubber towards the in-goal, however it was easily defused as the Knights maintained managed to keep the Bulls scoreless.
The Newcastle win sees them claim the second edition of the Country Championships after the Bulls won the inaugural competition in 2019.
“It’s all about working together and the players doing their individual jobs well to give us the best chance – a real team effort,” Grigg said.
“The platform laid by the forward pack in the first 15 minutes put us in the best position to take advantage of the ruck.
“Margaret, Sophie Buller and Chantelle Graham did their job and then some, which allowed Ashlee to control the game.
“And, she had the ball on a string.
“It also allowed Tasmyne Luschwitz to control the ruck and that was key for us in the win.
“There were 17 special efforts out there and everyone played their role – the back three and bench brought so much energy.
“Caitlin Shoulders, Phoebe (Desmond) and Sophie (Higgins) were outstanding.
“But, I need to give a special mention to Nicole Stansfield and Rihanni Cipta, who shut down Riverina’s attacking weapon in Tess Staines.
“Raz (Cipta) took the challenge on and didn’t give anything away.
“That performance from her was the best I’ve seen her play.
“Like I said, it’s something special to achieve and I’m proud and privileged for the opportunity to work with this amazing group of players and coaching staff.”
NEWCASTLE HUNTER REGION KNIGHTS 38 (Margaret Watson, Christa Smith, Emma Young, Phoebe Desmond, Harmony Liddell, Amy Broadhead tries; Ashlee Harvey 7 goals) defeated RIVERINA BULLS 0
Newcastle Hunter Region Knights women’s tackle squad: (coach Russell Grigg) Adonijah Afamasaga, Amy Broadhead, Ashlei Grande, Ashley Harvey, Brooke Carter, Caitlin Shoulders, Chantelle Graham, Christa Smith, Emma Young, Georgia Smyth, Harmony Liddell, Janiyah Brown, Jenni Mauli, Jordan Glanville, Pricilla Tremain, Lacey Hickson, Margaret Watson, Nicole Stanfield, Phoebe Desmond, Rihanni Cipta, Robyn Draper, Sophie Buller, Sophie Higgins, Tahlia Goldsmith, Tasmyne Luschwitz, Taylah Gray
- with Jon Kroiter