UPDATED: Love conquers all - or everyone in the Super W competition anyway.
Inspirational NSW captain Ash Hewson pointed to the “love” among friends and teammates inside the Waratahs women squad as their super power after NSW made yet more history by going back-to-back in the Super W competition.
In an incredibly tense grand final against old foes Queensland, the NSW team trailed 5-3 and plagued by nerves and a heroic defensive performance by their arch-rivals, the Waratahs couldn’t crack the maroon line for over 50 minutes.
But in front of a boisterous and partisan crowd of 3074 at Leichhardt Oval, powerhouse NSW no.8 Grace Hamilton finally barged over in the 54th minute and scored a try that would ultimately prove to be the match-winner in a low-scoring clash.
The extra-time of last year’s gripping decider wasn’t needed but the Waratahs’ 8-5 win was no less thrilling, and the victory extended NSW’s remarkable unbeaten streak to two whole years.
Up against a Queensland team bristling with character, NSW had to display plenty of heart to win the game and they delivered for each other.
Hewson, who was named player of the match but said Hamilton should have won it, said those tight bonds within the team are what drives the ongoing success of the unbeaten NSW women.
"Just the way our girls get up for each other - the love amongst our team and why we get up for each other, ” she said.
"I heard girls screaming “get up, get up” and helping each up from the ground with two minutes to go. People had nothing left in the tank and I think that’s a really special thing to have in any team.
"To win and go through undefeated again is a credit to our girls and this team and what we’re about. It was a very tough battle but it’s great.”
Like in all good Grand Finals between arch-rivals, the hunger for victory saw both sides nervous and prone to uncharacteristic errors in the opening half.
It was helter-skelter stuff and while NSW’s forward pack looked dominant using route one from the get-go, Queensland looked the more dangerous with the ball in hand out wide.
Queensland led 5-3 at halftime, after winger Alana Elisaia made the most of rival winger Maya Stewart being in the sin-bin and touched down.
NSW had one decent chance to score when Shanice Parker got free but she didn't find her support.
The game was otherwise fought like trench warfare, with NSW seeking to dominate the Queenslanders through their forward pack, inch-by-inch.
Led by the Queensland locks Mille Boyle and Alisha Hewett, the maroon defence was outstanding.
The second half saw the Waratahs emerge with the same game plan - plough down field via the pack - but they did it better, and kept Queensland pinned in their territory.
The visitors held on for an age but Hamilton finally dived over after two lovely left-foot steps from no.12 Katrina Barker put her in the clear.
NSW rolled on good impact from the bench and with warhorses like Emily Robinson, Tasmin Shepard and Sera Naiqama rolling up their sleeves for a huge shift, they simply refused to let Queensland get back down near the NSW line.
Queensland’s set-piece was their Achilles’ heel and they could not find a way to get our of their half, but not nearly enough ball into the hands of danger woman Elysia Lefau-Fakaosilea either.
Waratahs coach Matt Evrard said he was proud his team found a way to win.
"It’s always a different story and it doesn’t matter what sport it is, it is hard to go back-to-back and not lose a game,” he said.
"They had to earn every single minute of that tonight. There were parts of that game there where Queensland were better than us and we had to deal with that. To find a way to deal with it and find a way to keep them down that end of the half, and not let them get out, it took a lot of hard work.
"We just thought we would get down that end and deserve a try for being there. Queensland is not that team. They’re going to defend over and over and over again, and make you earn every point. It took eight of them to win the game tonight.”