Well the South Perth Lions got the loss they needed two weeks ago, when their perfect season went down the drain against the Roosters. But they walked away with the last laugh, as an extra time penalty goal from Player of the Grand Final, Shayla Taiwhati, ended the contest in golden point. For the Roosters, it was a devastating blow, for a season full of promise, as they built a new team and a new style. But both sides will again be right in the mix in 2021 if they can keep their groups together.
Fremantle started the faster, dominating all the early running with Michelle Trainor and Shanaaz Te Ahuru causing all sorts of problems for the South Perth defence. If not for some heavy kicks (or short in goals), the Lions might have had a few more defensive sets to worry about early. But with both sides here to play, it was going to take something special to break this game wide open.
Enter Brooke Carroll. The Women’s League Tag Player Of The Year. The “Red & White Flash” received a perfect ball from Michaela Turner-Wallace and promptly set off in search of the tryline, only to be denied by the Roosters own Ferrari, the ever present Caitlin Pears. Both ladies have speed to burn and it was only the first salvo of their epic battle. It didn’t take long for Pears to fire her own shot, as she sliced through the line two tackles later only to be pegged back by some desperate Lions defenders.
But while the race cars were revving their engines in a show of speed, the playmakers from both teams were impressing themselves upon this game. Claire French and Taylor Kerr, knee injury and all, were constant ball carriers for the Roosters, moving their team around the pitch. And the Lions Grace Smith and Shayla Taiwhati answered time and again, constantly fighting back like a red and white wave.
Anyway with all the early running, Aimee Davis, Teigan Higgins and Te Ahuru were poking holes in the defensive line constantly, but the Lions just kept on turning up. With free flowing movement, young Rebecca Mann made a 30 metre linebreak of her own only to be denied by Carroll. The Lions were starting to get desperate.
What I can say, is even in League Tag, a great kicking game is essential. And Taiwhati provided that. Her booming kicks put the Lions in good field position, and forced the Roosters to play ball in their own territory, which led to Danielle Barker intercepting a ball for the Lions and going oh so close to posting first points for the red and whites, barring a last desperate tag from Davis. But the Lions would not be denied. A pinpoint pass from player of the moment Taiwhati, found an open Jaymee Johnson who duly outpaced the defence to score and put the Lions up 4-0.
But, in one of the great ironies of rugby league, the kick off was not controlled by the Lions, and Fremantle went right on the attack. And they finally found a way through. Te Ahuru put a grubber through, which was not handled by the Lions defenders, and she duly regathered and put the ball down in time. Pears missed the conversion, and the half ended at 4-4 with 25 minutes to play.
The second half started with some fire, with firebrand Higgins showing her trademark fire in a tussle with youngster Taylah Taiwhati. Young Taylah gave as good as she got in the exchange. And the physical intensity of the contest increased. Now in recent times, this would have spelled trouble for the Lions side, but after their no holds barred game against the Rabbitohs a week earlier, the physical aspect seemed to breathe new life into their game. Strike weapon Jaymee Johnson got going, and the team went with her and started making inroads.
With the game now completely in the balance, Johnson was about to be turned into the villian. Claire French made a great linebreak, and used her footwork to try and evade fullback Carroll. This led to a bit of contact with Amanda McGuire, with both players instantly apologising. But Johnson took an affront to the contact, and initiated front on contact with French, and was duly sent to the sin bin by referee James Maggio to give Fremantle a one women advantage for 10 crucial minutes.
But the Roosters wasted their chance, and it was actually looking like the Lions might be the ones to score while Johnson was up. And yep. It was that women Shayla Taiwhati. She sliced through and looked home for all money, and dotted down with three defenders all around her reaching for her tags. But she was denied. Diving was the call, and the game stayed at 4-4 with the time running out.
With both teams trading blows, the Roosters would get the final say in the second half, with the Lions turning the ball over with 40 second to spare. After a good build up left the Roosters 20 metres out just to the right of the posts, and gave Shanaaz Te Ahuru a chance to win it. But her field goal while well directed, just didn’t have the height as it went just under the cross bar, and we went into extra time.
In extra time the Roosters unfortunately lost their discipline. Giving away a penalty for not being square at marker, Which put the Lions deep in Roosters territory. And after a quick play the ball by Grace Smith, the Roosters then found themselves offside right on their own try line, to give the Lions a penalty shot, from 10 metres out and right in front. Taiwhati wouldn’t make a mistake from this distance, and duly converted to give the Lions the win.