Bears go Back-to-Back in Nailbiting Grand Final
First Grade Men’s Grand Final
The scene was set for a huge battle at Fregon Reserve, with the two strongest teams in the Men’s First Grade competition fighting it out for the ultimate glory in season 2017.
In a season clearly dominated by these two sides, with a combined 1,160 points scored for and only 364 conceded, both Werribee and Casey were ready for a physical match up.
Casey welcomed the return of a few of their leading players back from injuries and coming off a storming victory against Northern Thunder the week before, confidence was high as they hit the ground running.
However, it was Werribee who drew first blood in the 6th minute, with eventual Player of the Game, Troy Hanita-Paki, crossing the line, with the Bears starting with a great physical presence and breaking Casey’s defence on multiple occasions in the opening minutes.
Werribee were able to double their lead in the 17th minute, controlling the game with penalties impacting Casey’s attempts in going forward. Kuros Metuariki’s speed and strength was too strong, blitzing the defence as he crossed the try line.
However, as it has been most of the season, Werribee’s conversion rate was lacking, kicking away extra points and giving Casey a chance in the game, in a match that they were performing below standards.
Trailing 8-0, and showing little signs of their usual self, Casey needed to hit the scoreboard. Tau Pesa did exactly that in the 24th minute following on from continual pressure on the Bears’ defence, succumbing to the attack of the Warriors in the windy conditions.
Five minutes of possession and powerful play showed those in attendance exactly what Casey can do, with a strong surge indicating they weren’t going away anytime soon.
Neither side were giving an inch in a strong and physical clash. An unfortunate injury for Werribee’s Eddie Aukino Hughes led to the Bears being a man down with a head injury ruling him out for the remainder of the match.
The half-time whistle couldn’t have come quick enough for the Bears, with momentum completely in Casey’s hands. Casey were able to cross the line again with sublime passing across the field and grabbing a superb team try, with Kelma Tuilagi finishing the play off well.
Seemingly heading to a 18-8 halftime deficit, Troy Hanita-Paki crossed for Werribee moments before half-time, supporting a superb line break from Frank Vaaua leaving the Casey halftime lead at 18-12.
Entering the last half of the season, it was all on the line for the Bears, with Casey controlling the game and the scoreboard, and Werribee looking lifeless in attack.
However, just like the first half, the Bears were able to draw first blood and close in on the Warriors, with a great attacking try from Tevita Pomale combining with Ben Tuiatua.
The game from here tightened up, with scoring becoming harder and harder, and weary bodies battling hard to try and grab the edge over their opponent.
With 30 minutes remaining, the Warriors remained in front, but only by two points.
As the tensions grew, and the game headed to its conclusion, Werribee were able to cross the try line and sneak back in front, courtesy of Redeem Saleupolu breaking the lines of the Casey defence once again.
With just 10 minutes remaining, Casey ran numerous attempts, with set after set failing inches near the try line, and costly fumbles hindering both sides in a scrappy period of the game.
The defence was superb of Werribee, dealing with strong forward runs, great passing spread and low balls on the ground, but were unable to gain some territory in attack by fumbling and knocking it on.
With three minutes remaining, a costly penalty gifted Casey a chance to tie the game, and send it into extra time. However, they decided to risk it all and run the ball, failing straight away with a knock-on, and unable to cross the line for a game-winning try.
Werribee’s defence was sublime as mentioned, showing their worth as Premiers and withstanding Casey’s attack-after-attack avalanche.
The final whistle blew with Werribee claiming back-to-back Premierships, winning a classic Grand Final, 20-18.
Tries: Troy Hanita-Paki [6’, 38’], Tevita Pomale [51’], Kuros Metuariki [17’], Redeem Saleupolu [67’]
Tries: Tau Pesa [24’], Kelma Tuilagi [34’], Joseph Watene [28’]
Conversions: Pesa 3