Australian Premier Club Rugby welcomes its first Grand Final of the year, with the Top End set to host a blockbuster final between the Casuarina Cougars and Darwin Dragons.
Unlike nearly every other club competition in the country, the Darwin A Grade competition has enjoyed a relatively full season, with the exception of a three month gap between rounds four and five due to the impact of COVID.
Coming off the back of winning the trophy last year, the Darwin Dragons had a much more mixed season, grabbing only three wins during the regular season to still get them scrape into finals contention. The best performers of the season were the University Pirates, who went through the regular season undefeated.
However, as the semi-finals showed, finals footy is a different ball game.
Darwin brought their finals skills to bear against the current minor premiers, and managed to execute their game plan to perfection to unseat the Pirates 14-17 and book themselves a place in the Grand Final.
Meanwhile, Casuarina had been in a fight for second place against South Darwin for most of the season, and a fortunately clash against them in the final round saw the Cougars prevail and earn a home semi-final against South Darwin again the following week. They delivered with a more convincing 26-11 win.
Key Match Ups
The Dragons come into the grand final with a lot of mature heads guiding the team. The most notable recent news was the announcement that Captain Hirini Murfitt tied with University stalwart Robbie Butcher for the Eric Johnston Medal for Best & Fairest of the 2020 season. Heavily regarded as a skipper within Darwin clubland, Murfitt (known affectionately as H) has proven to be a workhorse in the Dragons scrum and a key leader to get the team to stand up.
One of the key successes for the Dragons in the semi-final as well came off the back of Nigel Maher. Having played scrumhalf for most of the season, being moved to flyhalf proved to be a masterstroke, with him having a booming kick that tied University’s back three in knots.
However, where the game is likely to be won and lost is in the scrum. Hare Winitana is viewed as very exciting tight head prop within the Darwin club system, and he’ll be coming up against Cougar big man Eric Erickson.
One of the most regarded players in Casuarina, Erickson brings an excellent scrum technique and, combined with the aggression of second rower Mathew Travers, makes the Casuarina pack a tough animal to wrangle.
Lastly, rugby fans should keep an eye out for Zac Phillips, a Casuarina back who has been on the return from injury. If he is picked for the match, he’ll bring one of the strongest kicking games in the competition to the field, which may prove critical in the closing stages of the game.
For fans looking to get to the game, the match kicks off on Saturday, August 15th at 8pm local time at Northern Territory Rugby Park. For those who are unable to attend, watch LIVE and FREE on Rugby Xplorer (available on the App Store).