GRIFFITH has survived a fast-finishing Steamers to win their first rugby grand final in more than a decade 16-11 at the Connolly Rugby Complex.
The Blacks were out of steam as the Blue and Golds dominated possession and field position in the final 15 minutes of Saturday’s contest in Wagga.
Both sides finished with a try apiece but in the end it was the kicking game of Griffith’s Dan Rawaqa that proved the difference.
The former Fijian international kicked a field goal, two penalties and a conversion in his side’s 16 points, hit the cross bar with two other attempts and in general play was able to unleash 60-metre kicks for field position.
But with just minutes left on the clock and the Steamers trailing 16-11, Richard Manion looked set to tie the game up when he burst onto a ball and into the clear close to the line only to have the referee pull it back for a forward pass.
Coach Mick Raynes said it was a line-ball call.
“The forward pass call could have gone either way,” he said.
“The game was always where we wanted it to be and it was just the call on that pass at the end.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the boys, we worked hard to get here and they can leave today with their heads held high, it was a great club effort.”
Raynes said Griffith proved a tough act in the forwards.
“Losing Tom Rowan was a big hit — he’s our go-to man in the line out and in attacking their line-out,” he said.
“I think he broke a finger on one hand and then the thumb on the other.
“That put us under a lot of pressure — he was busting to get back on but just couldn’t do it.
“But our defence overall was great.
“We shut them down, they didn’t score their long-range tries, their breaks were making 20 or 30 metres here or there.
“In the end it was a bounce here, a bounce there.”
The Steamers dominated early and were camped in Griffith’s half for the first 20 minutes but it was Rawaqa who opened the scoring on 21 minutes with a penalty goal.
Blake Le Cornu levelled the scores inside five minutes and when he slotted another on the half hour the Steamers had hit the front 6-3.
But with just two minutes to go in the first half it was another Fijian international and Griffith captain, Marika Vunibaka, who broke the line and delivered the ball on a plate for Maika Ravouvou to score.
Rawaqa converted and then on the stroke of half-time added a field goal to have the Blacks in front 13-6 at the break.
Griffith dominated the opening 20 minutes of the second half but could only manage another three points before the Steamers made a late charge.
Sustained pressure with just five minutes to go saw Richard Manion put Le Cornu through and had the Steamers within five points.
Steamers Captain Nathan Bright said the game was there to be won.
“We had absorbed the big hits and could see they were tiring late in the first half but when we should have lifted we took our foot of the pedal and let them score,” he said.
“We rallied late in the game and had them on the ropes.
“But you can’t wait in a grand final.
“We took some punishment out there today and could have, perhaps should have, won.
“Good luck to Griffith they are a quality side who won their last nine games including the grand final.”