After a thrilling 2022 season, the competitions two heavyweights, the Waratahs Women and Fijiana Drua faced off at AAMI Park in Melbourne for the Super W title.
Drua were certainly the fresher of the two sides leading into the Grand Final, with their last competitive fixture a 17-7 win over the Brumbies Women on April 9.
Having finished second behind the Drua after the regular season, the Tahs were forced into a Semi-Final clash against the Queensland Reds Women last weekend, prevailing comfortably 36-0.
In the sides only clash of 2022, Drua blew the Waratahs away with persistent and creative attacking rugby, putting on a masterclass of off-loading talent to have the Tahs side scrambling for much of the game.
Fortunately for the Waratahs, they brought into the Grand Final a wealth of big game experience, with just two changes from the stating side in last year’s 45-12 Final victory against the Reds.
For the Drua, the Grand Final offered up the chance to secure silverware in their inaugural year, an achievement which would cap off an incredible year for the expansion club.
In sublime rugby conditions at AAMI Park, Fijiana begun in their familiar flamboyant style, but the Tahs had obviously learnt from the sides last clash, shutting down the home sides outside runners and forcing the Drua through the center of the field.
Consequently, we had to wait until the 20th minute for the fixtures first points, with Vitalina Naikore escaping the defensive effort of Margot Vella to cross in the corner and secure her sixth try of the competition.
The Tahs were quick to respond, marching their way down the field thanks to some set-piece dominance and setting up hooker Natalie Delamere with an unmissable try scoring opportunity close to the line.
Consistent with the style of game, match momentum quickly swung the opposite way with Fijiana scoring two quick tries, including a sensational cross field kick play between Merewalesi Rokouono and Kolora Lomani in the 31st minute of play.
With the Drua lead increasing to 17-5, the Waratahs were desperate to score before the half-time break and did. A perfectly executed rolling maul supplying Delamere with her second of the match and reducing the Drua advantage to 17-12 at the break.
Only moments into the second half it was Delamere again, sniping from the back of another strong rolling maul to seal her hat-trick. A successful conversion from Lori Cramer took the score to 19-17 and gave the Tahs their first lead of the afternoon.
With the deficit only 2-points Fijiana intensity increased, with the home side kept out only by desperate ruck turnovers from Emily Chancellor and Iliseva Batibasaga close to the try line.
However, eventually the pressure was too much for the Tahs, as the Drua drew in NSW’s defensive line before shifting it to superstar Naikore for her second of the match.
Soon after Drua skipper, Bitila Tawake, was shown yellow for a sinical ruck infringement, offering the Tahs the perfect opportunity to regain the lead.
It didn’t take NSW long to capitalize on such an opportunity, with replacement prop Eva Karpani rolling off the Tahs maul to crash over in the corner. A clutch conversion from Cramer saw the NSW lead reinstated to 26-22.
This slender lead was broken in the 70th minute following an electric break from Fijiana fullback Timaima Ravisa, escaping the desperate attempts of Mahalia Murphy to score and hand the Drua a 1-point advantage.
With Fijiana looking to capitalise on the momentum, it was Drua star Naikore who again stamped her authority on the match, crossing for her hat-trick after a well-worked backline play.
It was to be the final points of the Grand Final, with NSW squandering two late attacking opportunities to hand the Fijiana Drua their first Super W title.
Tries: Naikore 2, Radiniyavuni, Lomani, Ravisa
Yellow Cards: Matarugu, Tawake
Tries: Delamere 3, Karpani
Cons: Cramer 3