MATCH REVIEW: Women’s Division One Grand Final
Written by Michael Shillito
Wollongong Saints vs. Manly Warringah Wolves – Blacktown ISP on Sunday 15th September
For the first time, the Women’s Division One competition was showcased on Premier Division Grand Final day, opening the day’s proceedings with a morning clash between Wollongong Saints and Manly Warringah Wolves.
The two clubs had met just two weeks ago in the Major Semi-Final, and on that occasion the Saints took the honours. But the Wolves hit back in last week’s Preliminary Final, edging out Pennant Hills in a thriller to earn a re-match against the Saints.
The weather was fine, and the track was good at Blacktown for what shaped as an entertaining contest.
For the Saints, it was their fourth straight appearance in a Division One Grand Final which meant they had the big game experience. And this experience would work to their advantage in the first quarter, as they took control of proceedings from the start. In just 12 minutes, the Saints already had three goals on the board and the Wolves were on the back foot and being in the risky position of having to play catch-up footy. Although the Wolves steadied later in the first quarter, the Saints had set themselves up strongly with a run of four goals to one for the quarter, leading by 18 points at quarter time.
The Wolves had been on the back foot in the first quarter. But whatever happened in the Manly huddle at quarter time galvanised them in the second term. The Wolves were barely recognisable from the first as they went in harder, attacking the ball and suddenly they were back in the contest. The momentum was swinging, and the vocal Manly support base was making their presence felt as the tide was turning Manly’s way. The ball spent most of the quarter in their forward half of the ground, as the Wolves kicked the only two goals of the quarter to cut the margin to just four points at the long break.
The Saints had come out strongly, only to be pegged back by the Wolves in the second term. Just a kick in it at the long break. The game was there to be won as the premiership quarter got under way; and it was there for the team that would stand up and make the decisive break. And so the ball travelled from end to end, both teams looking for the opportunity to take a stranglehold on the contest and put their hand on the premiership cup.
The game remained deadlocked as the minutes ticked by. Both sides searched for the pivotal edge. And eventually it came, as Nicola Kennedy marked 15 from home and put it through, stretching the lead to 11 points at the 14 minute mark. Suddenly the Saints were on a roll, and another goal went within a fingertip of bouncing through a minute later. But the Manly defence held firm, and the margin remained at 12 points until the three quarter time siren sounded.
The Wolves weren’t done yet. Just two minutes into the fourth Hesta Van Eercell set up Isabella Rudolph, who marked in the pocket and kicked truly from an impossible angle. The Wolves were back within a kick.
Neither team had scored at the Eastern Road end since the first quarter, but the Saints found an answering goal within seconds of the restart, through the guts and running in to an open goal.
The minutes were ticking by, and the Wolves needed two goals. They had their chances, but the Saints were holding them out. The ball ran towards an unattended goal square, and the Wolves won the race. 13 minutes gone, the margin was back to five points. Two minutes later, the Wolves hit the front for the first time, a ball cleverly snapped by Geordie Rowan from the pocket.
The Manly roar from the grandstand grew louder. The Wolves had the lead for the first time. Wollongong scrambled a behind at the 16 minute mark and scores were all tied up. This was a thriller, and everyone waited with baited breath to see what the final twist in this tale would be.
Another Wollongong behind saw them back in front. And as the game looked for the heroic moment of glory, it was the Saints who got it done. A courageous mark under pressure, 20 metres from home. The nerves building, but the kick went through. 20 minutes had passed, and the Wolves had a seven point break. And that was enough, as the siren sounded moments later.
For Manly, the loss hurt. After a slow start, they had been magnificent, kept fighting and hit the front with just minutes to go; only to be denied at the death. Isabella Rudolph was a star up forward for the Wolves, kicking four goals and along with Holly Graham and Jessica Layton was among their best. It had been a good season for Manly, but ultimately one that fell just seven points short of greatness.
This was Wollongong’s day. The Saints have had some agonising losses in recent Grand Finals, but this time they managed to get it done. Nicola Kennedy, Kimberly Chan and Kiara White were standouts. It had been a solid team effort by the Saints to get it done. Whatever the future holds for Wollongong Saints, they will always have this moment. They’ll be partying hard in the Illawarra.
Wollongong Saints – 4.2 | 4.2 | 5.4 | 7.6 (48)
Manly Warringah Wolves – 1.2 | 3.4 | 3.4 | 6.5 (41)
Wollongong Goals – P Davis 2, K White 2, N Kennedy 2, C Stanton
Manly Goals – I Rudolph 4, H Graham, K Wall
Wollongong Best – N Kennedy, K Chan, K White, G McDonnell, J Stanton, C Stanton
Manly Best – H Graham, J Layton, I Rudolph, P Carter, C Johnson, A Wilson