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Sydney Roosters won their first NRLW Premiership after a thrilling 16-4 win over St George Illawarra Dragons at Redcliffe.
The narrative behind the Roosters was overwhelming: They lost their first two games of 2021 and were on life support, then seemed almost dead and buried as they trailed the previously dominant Broncos 16-0 in the semifinals.
Yet this team has such reserves of confidence and self-belief that even when trailing, even when continually sidetracked by the Dragons’ superb defense until midway through the second half, she persevered.
Sarah Togatuki, who was named player of the match, was a perfect example: she had been under a cloud of suspension and hadn’t expected to play, but endured a grueling 36-hour fasting and prayer session before Tuesday’s court does not declare her capable of playing. .
In the end, it was his spirited run that created the try that sealed the game.
Olivia Higgins ignored calls from her own physio to stop the game, which could be questioned by the Dragons, but the Roosters played the whistle.
It was a bruising contest that saw the Roosters’ Brydie Parker and the Dragons’ Paige McGregor taken off with injuries, and showcased the final tackle and defensive resolve on both sides.
In the end, it was the game’s finest offensive move – a stunning Chooks team try – that made the difference between the teams. It put the Roosters ahead for the first time in the game and they never looked back.
It started fast for St George Illawarra. Barely two minutes later, the Dragons had passed. It was a scrimmage play that saw Dally M co-winner Emma Tonegato strike from the left and the competition’s top scorer Madison Bartlett cross for a corner.
The Dragons had the best possible start, but they barely made it their way. If anything, the Roosters were the stronger team but failed to capitalize, with a superb defense in the corners denying both wingers, Brydie Parker and Leanne Tufuga, as well as striker Hannah Southwell.
The defense needed to be tested even further. Taliah Fuimaono was thrown in for a high shot at Parker – who went off and didn’t return with a knee injury sustained in the same tackle – and the pressure escalated a notch further.
Paige McGregor came out on top: she denied Jess Sergis a safe try before threatening at the other end, only to be stopped by a miraculous tackle from her sister, Raecene, playing for the Roosters.
The feeling was growing that the Chooks hadn’t done enough to make their possession advantage count, it almost did. Keeley Davis thought he had scored but the bunker saw a blow in the build and took it.
It proved a defensive masterclass on both sides and it was the Roosters’ turn to show their mettle. Sergis twice denied the Dragons with huge tackles, first on Emma Tonegato and then on Talei Holmes, to keep his side close at hand.
Yasmin Meekes took advantage of it. She broke down the left to put the Roosters within striking distance, and a few plays later isolated Dragons halfback Rachel Peason on the goal line to crash. Tamara missed the kick and the scores were level 4-4.
The match turned on an injury to Paige McGregor. She had been one of the best on the ground, but got caught in a tackle on Leanne Tufuga and had to leave with her arm in a sling.
Moments later, the Roosters took the lead with a superb team try. Corban Baxter created the movement, nurtured Zahara Tamara and she unloaded on Isabell Kelly.
The former Dally M medalist still had a lot to do but she is one of the most dangerous runners in women’s football and rolled back against the Dragons slide to score by the posts. Tamara converted.
The roosters were not to be stopped. Sarah Togatuki broke to get the Chooks up the park and although the Roosters physio called for the game to be stopped for an injury in the Dragons line, Olivia Higgins did not and scored the match sealing test.