A classic comeback and controversy on full-time enveloped Brothers’ premiership triumph over Wests at Ballymore today.
The courageous Brethren somehow found a fightback from 19-0 down after 31 minutes to shade the Bulldogs 26-24 in the StoreLocal Hospital Cup grand final.
For Tony Shaw Medallist Harry Wilson, the title feeling was immense after carrying the pain of 2017’s losing grand final.
“It feels even better than I thought it would,” Wilson said.
“The slow start was quite frustrating but the word at half-time from ‘Gabbsy’ (coach Brendan Gabbett) was to have belief and you can do this. We did and hung on at the end.
“To win a grand final, it’s the best feeling ever. To sprint to the Brothers fans pouring onto the ground from the hill is something I’ve dreamt of.”
Junior Wallabies winger Tim Ryan, prop Jaiden Christian, two-try hooker Dom Fraser, strong-running veteran centre Michael Bond, in his last game before retirement, and flyhalf Lawson Creighton were other standouts for the victors.
Gabbett’s final game as coach before heading into the sunset was everything he could have hoped.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys being the team that didn’t lose their heads at 19-0 down,” Gabbett said.
“I think it says something about the club as a whole that guys like Dom Fraser, Will Wilson, Isaac Tarabay and captain Noah Nielsen were once third graders and have won the biggest trophy in Premier grade.”
At full-time, the Brethren started delirious celebrations for their first title since 2016 while Wests stewed over the final call of the match.
With time all but up, the Bulldogs careered towards the Brothers tryline with a well-constructed rolling maul from a 20m lineout.
Lock Angelo Smith fell over the tryline for what could have been his third try of the afternoon as the Bulldogs believed they’d won on a final prayer.
Brothers contended that Will Wilson had his hands under the ball.
“I got the ball down. The hands under it came later,” a gutted Smith said.
The bigger issue for many Bulldogs’ supporters was not getting any advantage from the rolling maul coming down and perhaps a telling penalty.
It was a match of close calls. Harry Wilson may have got the ball down for a first half try but it was ruled otherwise.
The Bulldogs can be unhappy with the 80th minute but there were poor options they should also rue when two-points behind.
At the 62-minute mark with Wests down to 14 men, the Bulldogs earned a penalty out wide. Replacement halfback Louis Werchon inexplicably rushed into a quick tap rather than settling and taking an angled penalty goal attempt to re-take the lead.
The big turning point moment looked to have come after just 23 minutes with Wests ahead 7-0. Brothers' Junior Wallabies flyer Ryan was chopped down just metres short. Rather than hack the ball into touch, Wests centre Charlie Tupu hoofed a big left-foot kick downfield.
Wests winger David Vaihu was first to the bouncing ball. By the time, it was relayed, Tupu and his rat’s tail were on the spot to score the try. The counter flowed all of 99m and gave Wests a 14-0 jump.
Smith, a fine Fijian product in the Melbourne Rebels ranks, scooted over before and after half-time when Wests made Brothers pay for messy lineout work.
Fraser matched his two tries, one from a rolling maul and the next a dummying gem from 30m out. Christian scored to close it to 24-19.
The first time Brothers led was just before the hour mark. Creighton took on the defence, slipped half his body through and unloaded at point-blank range to Harry Wilson who crossed for the game-winner.
"We spoke about perfection during the week. Not everything was going to be perfect but you could be perfect in little things to make a difference. What is perfect is winning this trophy," Nielsen said.
Bond University back Mel Wilks had a huge influence on the women’s grand final, won 17-12 over minor premiers Sunnybank.
It was a huge show of resilience to even get to this grand final after ankle and quadricep injuries wiped out her season for all but the semi-final and grand final.
"I was told I'd be out for another four weeks so to get back for this with lots of rehab is a great feeling," Wilks said.
"I'm really proud of the girls. We don't have many in representative sides so it was nice to prove we can more than match it with a team with lots of Reds and representative players."
Just as she did as Player-of-the-Match in the 2022 decider, Wilks made all the difference. She scored the opening try and threw the final pass for the scorching long-range game-winner from halfway by Amahli Hala.
The Bond girls made light of the 9am kick-off forced on them for the breakfast grand final but Wilks insisted it should never happen again.
"It's not Under-8s. The women's grand final should be played before the men's Premier Grade grand final," the Queensland Reds squad player said.
Wilks was up at 4.50am at Palm Beach to get to the Bond University pick-up point on the Gold Coast for the 6am team bus trip to Ballymore to start pre-game preparations.
The Bond University team did get to enjoy the new female dressing rooms at the redeveloped Ballymore.
For Hala, it was a joyous and unexpected celebration and her speed was reflective of a side always backing fitness and pace by spinning the ball wide. She only found out at Thursday night training she’d be starting because of a backline injury.
Hala is just 17 and in Year 12 at King’s Christian College. She is already marked for bigger things having been part of Australia’s gold medal-winning sevens team at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago in August.
“It was a surprise to get called up on Thursday. I’m normally busy at sevens but I jumped at playing when I was asked,” Hala enthused.
Hospital Cup: Brothers 26 (D Fraser 2, H Wilson, J Christian tries; L Creighton 3 con) bt Wests 24 (A Smith 2, V Raboiliku, C Tupu tries; M Gordon 2 con)
Women: Bond University 17 (A Hala, M Wilks tries; M Wilks 2 con, pen goal) bt Sunnybank 12 (L Bosenavulagi, L Tongia tries; C Smith con)
Colts 1: Brothers 29 (O Harvey 2, W Cartwright, A Taylor tries; W Cartwright 3 con. Pen goal) bt Souths 22 (R Bierton, D Thygesen tries; pen try; R Bierton con, pen goal)