The unheralded team from the west, Perth Spirit, have completed their giant-killing run through the National Rugby Championship finals series, beating the NSW Country Eagles in the Final to claim their maiden title.
After falling at the final hurdle in 2014, Perth’s outstanding defence paved the way for the 20-16, three tries to two win at Scully Park in Tamworth.
Perth Spirit flanker Richard Hardwick won the inaugural Phil Waugh Medal for his outstanding Man of the Match breakdown performance.
Perth very nearly opened the scoring through winger Semisi Masirewa in the initial minutes, who charged down an Andrew Deegan kick, but couldn’t get to the ball before it went over the dead ball line.
From there, the first quarter of the Final turned into an old-fashioned battle for territory and forwards supremacy, of which the Spirit has already achieved the upper hand at scrum time.
A beautiful piece of Luke Morahan counter attack did finally bring the scoreboard to life, weaving his way through the broken Country defence and breaking away down the right edge, grubbering ahead and winning the clean-out to score out wide.
Perth jumped out to 12-0 only a minute later, after Jono Lance saw some space out wide and a quick recycle and wonderful Onehunga Havili offload saw scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens dot it down in the corner.
Sam Figg scooped up a loose ball and dived over to score a much-needed try for Country just before the halftime break. Deegan converted to pull the gap back to 12-8, and that remained the score at halftime.
Louwrens put Perth back out to 20-8 shortly after halftime, with Brynard Stander working a nice 8-9 move down the blindside from another dominant Spirit scrum. Ben Tapuai took over the goal-kicking and added the extras nicely from out wide.
Once back out by 12, Perth dug in with a superb defensive effort that just refuse to budge. Country coach Darren Coleman said at halftime that his side needed to get quick ball, but the Spirit defensive breakdown was relentless.
All the more remarkable was the fact that Perth had to play for 20 minutes of the second half with 14 men, after Pek Cowan and then Stander found themselves in yellow card trouble. Country no.7 Rowan Perry found himself in a similar fate earlier in the half.
The grandstand finish was assured when Country centre Tom Hill crashed over next to the posts, Tayler Adams’ quick conversion making it a four-point game going into the last few minutes.
And those last few minutes had everything; a costly Eagles knock-on, a Perth Spirit kick from the scrum win that could’ve been even more costly, and then a Richard Hardwick turnover on the bell to seal the 20-16 win for Perth.
NSW Country Eagles 16
Tries: S. Figg, T. Hill
Cons: A. Deegan 1/1, T. Adams 1/1
Perth Spirit 20
Tries: R. Louwrens 2, L. Morahan,
Cons: B. Tapuai 1/1, J. Lance 0/2