2023 NRL WA Premiership Grand Final Review

North Beach Sea Eagles 19
Fremantle Roosters 18

By Peter Rowe 

Two kicks determined the destination of the NRLWA Fuel to Go and Play Premiership on Saturday evening as underdogs North Beach Sea Eagles turned the tables on pre-match favourites Fremantle Roosters.

Trailing by two points and with seconds left on the clock the Sea Eagles were given a lifeline penalty 35 metres out and 10 metres in from the touchline.

With the siren already sounded centre Jaylen Grey coolly slotted the kick to take the game into overtime to set up a dramatic finale.

“I sort of heard the siren but the noise from the stand drowned it out,” Grey said afterwards.

Did he feel the pressure? 

“No, I shut everything out and focused on the kick. I had no doubt it would be good.”

And with that, after a pulsating 80 minutes of rugby league, the game went into golden point overtime.

The winning kick came a few minutes later after Fremantle’s Sonny Kerr dropped the ball in goal (from Grey’s kick-off) to force a line drop out back to the waiting Beach players.

The kick out set up the Sea Eagles for the first attempt at a winning shot and after three plays they had positioned themselves well.

Enter Kade McDonald. The centre had drifted in from his left edge position and took the ball 20 metres out.

The kick sailed over and between the posts and North Beach Sea Eagles had won a dramatic final against the minor premiers, who had previously only lost one game all season.

“The ball came to me and I just looked up and said to myself ‘kick it, yeah.” McDonald said afterwards. 

For coach Phil Douche it was the culmination of a season’s work and a week of trying to unpick what many had predicted would be a perfect Fremantle performance.

“We wanted it more,” exclaimed a delighted Douche. “We had to fight and fight in that second half. We never gave up. This team doesn’t know how to give up.”

Douche thought his side was the better after the first 40 minutes, even though they were trailing 18-10.

“We made a couple errors but we knew at the break we could win it. I told them that. Keep doing what you have been and the rewards will come.

“Defensively superb, they (Fremantle) didn’t score in the second half.”

The Sea Eagles got off to the perfect start, scoring inside the first five minutes when winger Jayden De Vorms dived over in the left corner, but found themselves behind four minutes later when Delane Edwards took on the defence in his typical dominating way to score.

When Kerrod Hignett pounced on a loose ball in goal in the 27th minute the Roosters looked to be on track, but McDonald had other ideas.

Just past their half-hour mark the centre backed himself when he kicked and then chased the ball from 30 metres out to bring the scoreline back, after the kick, to a two-point ball game.

But Fremantle had one more try in them before the halftime break, grabbing the momentum again as Reggie Manu took a perfect pass from captain Duane Butler to score.

That would be the last time the Roosters saw the try line as the Sea Eagles defensive line held firm. At one point defending three straight sets close to their line.

Then 13 minutes Into the second stanza, after Butler had laid in the ruck too long and conceded a penalty and from the kick, halfback Jeremy Wallace found a hole big enough for prop Gersh Adams to run through to score.

The kick from Grey closed the gap to two points again to set up the grandstand finish as the Roosters at first laid siege to try and seal victory before the Sea Eagles, looking the stronger finishers, kept coming back for more, competing for every ball.

“Oh, we competed for it all, I was so proud of that,” Douche said.

For Roosters skipper Butler, it was the opposite for much of the second half.

“Silly errors and we kind of fell away,” Butler said.

“Scrappy in the ruck but we couldn’t get the quick play the balls we wanted.”

In pregame build-up Butler had said he felt his side needed to lift from what he called a ’60-minute game’ to a full 80.

It didn’t happen, Fremantle performed at eight out of ten but North Beach were at their very best  – a straight ten.

“We always knew we had to be at our best, Douche said. “They are a very good side. So it was crucial we got off to a good start and finish well – as we know they can.”

With 20 minutes remaining rain then changed the dynamic of the game, with a slippery ball on a wet pitch as both teams found it hard to see out their sets, Fremantle continually knocking on the door but at one point dropping the ball on third tackle on three consecutive occasions.

Missed opportunities in a see-saw series of errors as North Beach defiantly hung on, and then, as Fremantle players started to tire, sensed victory.

Douche rotated his forwards again, something he had managed well all game as the Sea Eagles stood firm.

With the clock counting down Fremantle had once last chance to seal the game as hooker Jaydon Solomon made a break to set up Jesse Day down the right edge, only to be brought to ground by McDonald seven metres short. 

Butler then fell short before Millar recovered the ball and two minutes later came the penalty.

Grey’s kick sailed through and overtime beckoned.

What did Douche say to his team in the huddle before the restart?

“Just carry on doing what you have been doing all game.”

Butler won the toss to receive the ball and referee Ben Solomon wished both teams all the best.

Kerr will probably never want to see the footage of what happened next ever again, but for Douche and his magnificent men in maroon, the additional minute or so will forever be played in the clubrooms at Charles Riley Reserve.