HAMILTON overpowered a gallant but mistake-ridden Maitland 20-12 in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union grand final at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday to be the first team in 65 years to win four straight premierships.
The Hawks led throughout, but it took a half-time blast from coach Scott Coleman and a championship 20-minute period in the second half to seal the win.
“Good sides win ugly,” said a relieved Hamilton coach Scott Coleman who returned to the helm mid season and has now delivered seven premierships in 10 years. “To win four in a row is massive for the club. This year was definitely a different feel. The last two days the pressure has been pretty immense. With all three grades being in the grand final, we just wanted to get the job done.”
A Cyril-Burke led Waratahs were the last team to win four straight from 1950-53.
No team in the modern era (since 1945) has ever won five in a row.
The expectation and pressure showed in the first half, which was played in stifling heat.
However, the Hawks struck first.
Fly-half Dane Sherratt swooped on a loose pass in the sixth minute and ran 30 metres to score beside the posts. He added the extras for 7-0.
Maitland had the better of it for the next 30 minutes.
They hit back in the 17th minute when halfback Max Stafford burst down the short side from a five-metre scrum.
With their scrum holding firm, Maitland shifted the ball wide and found holes on the edges. And had the Blacks’ passes stuck, they could have taken control.
Hamilton also made a string of uncharacteristic errors.
The times they did mount pressure, the Maitland defence held strong.
Stafford got under Peter Maxwell over the try-line in 28th minute and the Hawks had another try correctly pulled back for a forward pass.
Sherratt slotted a field goal in the 32 minute to extend the gap to 10-5 at the break.
“We were in front at half-time but didn’t deserve to be,” Coleman said. “Our execution, which is the thing we have focused on for two weeks, was poor. Credit to Maitland they put us under a lot of pressure. We had 13 turnovers in the first half. Seven were knock-ons and five were from poor clean outs. I gave them a bit of blast.”
The Hawks responded. They controlled possession, cut down the errors and gained ascendancy at the scrum.
The Blacks continued to find space on the edges but time and time again the ball went to ground.
The Hawks were held up over the line again in the 60th minute.
They were camped on the Blacks’ line for the next 10 minutes and prop Geraint Weaver burrowed over from close range to extend the margin to 17-5.
Maitland needed a lifeline and Nick Davidson provided it. On the back of consecutive penalties, the breakaway swivelled over to give the Blacks a sniff at 17-12 with eight minutes remaining.
But unlike the preliminary final, in which they scored the match-winner at the death, there would be no heroics.
Sherratt ensured that, landing a late penalty to ice the win.
Hamilton No.8 Tom Coupe received the John Hipwell Medal for the player of the match.
The Belgium international did a power of work and made a series of busts early in the second half to put the Hawks on the front foot.
He just shaded centres Patty Kilmurray and Kirisome Laulala.
For the Blacks, Davidson and fellow back-rowers Travis Brooke and John Birrell led the way.
“We had our chances but just couldn’t mount any pressure,” a bitterly disappointed Maitland co-coach Mick Hickling said. “Even after they scored the try to go ahead by 12, I still thought it was our game. But we just kept losing the ball in contact. It was frustrating to watch.”
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