The Queanbeyan Blues secured their second consecutive TTM Canberra Raiders Cup premiership with a stirring 24-14 extra-time win over the Goulburn Workers Bulldogs at Seiffert Oval.
The Bulldogs have now fallen victim to the Blues juggernaut in two straight Grand Finals, with last year’s clash decided by a late try in added time.
Sunday’s thriller marked the third straight year that the decider has been sent in to overtime, with the two sides inseparable after regulation time.
A try to Man of the Match Craig Wilkinson in the fourth minute of extra-time broke the deadlock, before a four-pointer on the siren to Jake Wheeler added the icing on the cake.
The Blues’ victory was a fitting finale for former NRL players Marc Herbert and Trevor Thurling, who have both called time on stellar careers with back-to-back premierships.
Blues enforcer Scott Rutland announced that he would hang up the boots for the second time in as many years, bowing out with the premiership trophy in tow.
Queanbeyan halfback Ben Nicoll has also called time on his playing days, after turning in a herculean effort late in the game to propel the match in to extra-time.
Goulburn skipper Michael Picker lined up three shots at field goal in the dying stages, with Nicoll charging the first attempt down.
Goulburn then scored a repeat set which saw the former Raider shape up for another one-pointer, before Nicoll charged out of the defensive line, forcing Picker to throw the ball wide.
Picker got another shot off in the final ten seconds, but was again thwarted by a Nicoll charge down, ensuring the two sides would finish level at 14-all after 80 minutes.
Goulburn missed a golden opportunity to take the ascendancy early in the contest with poor ball handling butchering a certain try, much to the delight of the Blues’ faithful.
Luck favoured the home side early on, with a horrible bounce for Bulldogs winger Junior Vatikani allowing Wheeler to open the scoring in the twelfth minute.
The Bulldogs struck back in the 25th minute, with Michael Bani putting centre Codie Medway through a hole in the Blues’ defensive line.
Ill-discipline from Goulburn allowed Wilkinson to nudge the minor premiers ahead leading in to the break, calmly slotting a penalty goal from in front of the posts.
Four minutes in to the second half, the competition’s leading try scorer Tom Ruediger swooped on a loose ball to dash 70 metres and score under the posts for the Blues.
Trailing 12-4, Goulburn began to snatch back the momentum as they charged up the ground against a tiring Blues outfit.
Some impressive ball-playing from former NRL star Bani saw Bulldog Ben Marmont cross the line, to bring Goulburn to within four points.
Another penalty goal to Wilkinson saw the Blues stretch the score line to a converted try with 25 minutes remaining.
With just fifteen minutes left on the clock, Bulldog Matt Worboys left five Blues defenders in his wake to crash over, before Picker converted from the touchline to draw level.
The Blues were much more composed than their Goulburn counterparts in added time, with quick hands in the backline allowing Wilkinson to score in the corner.
Dave Pangai had a major role to play in extra-time for the second year running, intercepting a Goulburn pass and finding Wheeler for a long-range try on the buzzer.
It was a thrilling end to the season, with outgoing Blues skipper Marc Herbert labelling the Blues’ feats as nothing short of amazing.
“A lot of us have been together for three years, and we’ve achieved a lot in those three years,” said the Blues playmaker.
“Three minor premierships, three grand finals, and now two premierships. It’s an unbelievable effort.
“For those blokes that are retiring this year, what a way to go.”
A dejected Michael Picker was quick to praise Simon Woolford’s Blues side, while also thanking the Goulburn fans for their support.
“[They’ve] been the team to beat all year,” said the Bulldogs number six.
“It’s a big thing for a small town like Goulburn to have a side in the Final, so it was a good feeling.”
In Reserve Grade, the Tuggeranong Bushrangers scored twice in the final five minutes to topple the Blues in a fiery encounter that saw the defending premiers reduced to twelve men in the first half.
The Under 18’s Division One premiership was clinched by Woden Valley, as a Man of the Match performance from Ron Leapai propelled the Rams to a 24-14 win over the West Belconnen Warriors.
The Gungahlin Bulls reigned supreme in Under 18’s Division Two, beating the Tuggeranong Bushrangers 20-14 to take home the silverware.
TTM CANBERRA RAIDERS CUP GRAND FINALS
Queanbeyan Blues 24 (J Wheeler 2, T Ruediger, C Wilkinson tries ; C Wilkinson 4 goals) defeated Goulburn Workers Bulldogs 14 (C Medway, B Marmont, M Worboys tries; B Picker goal)
Tuggeranong Bushrangers 20 (J Pouono 2, M McLay, B Robertson tries; L Heyman 2 goals) defeated Queanbeyan Blues 16 (L Shipard 2, S Holstein tries; F Skeen, S Taholo goals)
UNDER 18’s DIVISION ONE
Woden Valley Rams 24 (R Leapai 2, A McQueen, L Hicks tries; J McDonald 4 goals) defeated West Belconnen Warriors 14 (C Morschel, J Russell, B Graham tries; B Graham goal)
UNDER 18’s DIVISION TWO
Gungahlin Bulls 20 (B Tanks 2, J Sanz, A Pavlak tries; J Porreca 2 goals) defeated Tuggeranong Bushrangers 14 (D Gough 2, J Rainbow tries; J Rainbow goal)
ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR YABBA