The Northern Rivers Titans have completed a fairy tale premiership 24-22 win in the SLE Andrew Johns Cup after scoring a last-minute try against Macarthur Wests Tigers in the Grand Final at St Marys Leagues Stadium.
The two teams turned on a display fitting of a decider, with the lead changing hands several times throughout the course of the match. The Tigers looked like they had secured the win after scoring back-to-back tries with less than 10 minutes remaining, but the Titans refused to give up and scored a long-range try in the final play of the game to level the scores at 22-all.
Titans five-eighth Callum Bowles had been having a mixed day with the boot but made no mistake with the most important kick of the day to spark scenes of celebrations.
The Titans, who hail from far-northern NSW, had been affected by the recent flooding in the area. They had been loaned “Future Titans” jerseys from the Gold Coast Titans recently after losing their own when the team bus was flooded earlier in the season.
“To find this bunch of boys is unbelievable,” Titans coach Shaun Davison said.
“They’re great representatives for the northern rivers areas. We talked about all the struggles back home everyone’s going through, so it means a lot.”Titans coach Shaun Davison
The Tigers started the match in blistering fashion, after halfback Sonny Edwards-Moeke showed great speed and strength to push his way past three defenders and score in the opening minutes. Fullback Noah McKenzie faced a tough conversion from the sideline but rode his luck after it bounced off the upright and over for a 6-0 lead.
The Titans defence was tested again after Tigers centre Cameron Nonenmacher was held up over the line before they worked their way down field to launch an attacking raid of their own. Titans halfback Zane Harrison came close after taking on the line himself but the next play saw Cameron Bowles launch a cross-field kick with the bounce favouring centre Jackson Bennett. Bowles missed the conversion, but the Titans had narrowed the gap to 6-4.
The Tigers worked their way into an attacking position and shifted the ball with a long spread to the right. Back-rower Byronn Laupepa showed great skill to bump, spin and offload to Luke Fielding who fired a long pass for Levi McGuiness, the son of former Wests Tigers player Kevin McGuiness, to score in the corner. McKenzie missed the sideline conversion, but the Tigers were a converted try in front at 10-4.
A handling error from the kick-off proved costly for the Tigers when Harrison picked up fullback Harry Chadburn with a short ball, who dummied to his outside before stepping his way back infield to crash over the line. Bowles missed the conversion, but the deficit was reduced to 10-8.
The Titans gave themselves a chance to grab one more try before the break on the back of a good charge at the line from Riley Buchanan. Hooker Hodson Towell took advantage of the situation when he jumped out of dummy-half to score next to the posts. Bowles made no mistake with this attempt and the Titans headed into half-time with a 14-8 lead.
Both sides dug in for the fight in the second half but were unable to capitalise on rare attacking raids. The Tigers broke the Titans up the middle with Chase Hepi backing up a strong run with an offload for Joel Byrne to keep going but couldn’t finish it off. The Titans also had a chance when winger Noah Waldock broke through the defence for a long run, but they too couldn’t capitalise.
The deadlock was finally broken when Bowles put a kick through and the ball came loose after Tigers defenders Callum McMenemy and McKenzie were involved in a sickening head clash trying to defuse it. Titans back-rower Billy Kilduff touched down the ball in-goal and play was stopped for several minutes before McKenzie was assisted from the field. Bowles missed the conversion, but the Titans had some breathing space at 18-10.
The Tigers gave themselves a chance after Laupepa showed great strength to wrestle his way out of the goal-line defence and barge his way over the line with McGuinness landing the extras after taking over the goal-kicking duties for McKenzie. Tigers winger Riley Oitmann then helped put his side back in front with eight minutes to go after busting through the defence from 60 metres out and then standing up Chadburn on his way to the line. McGuiness converted again and the Tigers had their noses in front at 22-18 with time fast running out.
The Titans maintained their composure, launching raid after raid, with the final charge in the final minute paying off after Ricco Waititi made a break from 60 metres out before picking up Harrison in support, who scored close to the posts. With the siren having already sounded, Bowles made no mistakes with the conversion to hand the Titans a remarkable 24-22 win.
“I’m just stoked for the boys they pulled that out of the fire,” Davison said.
“All year we’ve had to grind out every game, no game has come easy to us, so we talked about playing the full 60 minutes and we won on the 60th so that was really important to us.
“I was confident, we only had two minutes to go but we know that left edge is a lethal edge, we’ve got some great players on that left edge.
“I was confident if we could just get another set; because that second-last set we showed our hand by playing there.
“The boys identified the space there and they iced it.”