Griffith Blacks 16
THE Griffith Blacks withstood a late fightback from defending champion Albury to claim the Southern Inland Rugby Union premiership with a 16-11 victory in Wagga on Saturday.
The Blacks looked in control of their title destiny when they led 16-6 with 10 minutes remaining, but a try to Steamers inside centre Blake Le Cornu set up a thrilling finish.
With the clock ticking, the Blacks put their bodies on the line as the Steamers pressed for a match-levelling try.
Crucially, the Blacks maintained discipline during their desperate scrambling and didn't concede any costly penalties.
A knock-on saw the Steamers give up possession in their attacking half with a minute left, the let-off allowing the Blacks to work the ball up the field.
Blacks five-eighth Dan Rawaqa then launched a field-goal attempt from 30 metres out.
His shot sailed wide of the uprights, the referee halting proceedings as soon as the ball cleared the field.
The full-time whistle sparked jubilation among the Blacks players, who were quickly joined by the team's support staff on the ground.
The unrestrained emotion of the post-game celebrations contrasted sharply to n Continued Page 22
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the nerves the Blacks displayed early in the contest.
Poor handling blighted Griffith's efforts in the first 10 minutes before a bust from Rawaqa near halfway seemed to settle his team-mates down.
Muscle memory then kicked in for the Blacks, who began backing their attacking instincts and spreading the ball at every opportunity.
An Albury infringement allowed Rawaqa to give the Blacks a 3-0 lead after 21 minutes before the Steamers hit back with two of their own penalty goals to go 6-3 up.
The contest needed a try to break the game open and it was the Blacks who delivered, Tinomana Kaue backing up a blindside raid to cross the stripe.
Rawaqa converted before landing a cheeky field goal on half-time to give his side a 13-6 advantage.
The Blacks dominated possession and territory after the restart to keep the Steamers pinned in their own half.
Gifted a penalty in front of the posts, Rawaqa added another three points to the Blacks' tally before hitting the crossbar with a field-goal attempt soon after.
The Steamers were under siege and looked to have cracked when Griffith outside centre Maika Ravouvou crossed midway through the half before the try was disallowed for a forward pass.
The reprieve was just the boost Albury needed, the Steamers eventually breaking Griffith's resistance to post their first five-pointer through Le Cornu.
The grand final was suddenly in the balance as field position swung heavily in Albury's favour.
The reigning premiers set up camp close to the Griffith line, but the Blacks wouldn't be denied.
The Griffith forward pack, led by man of the match Chris Latu, dug in and repelled Albury's late attempts to snatch the win.