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The small mining community of Bluff almost quadrupled its population on Saturday night when it played host to the 2014 Central Highlands Grand Final.

Thousands of eager fans from all over the Highlands gathered to witness the first ever Ladies Grand Final between the Emerald Tigers Ladies and Clermont Bears Ladies and also the fiercely-rivalled Men’s Grand Final, between the undefeated Bluff Rabbitohs and defending Premiers, the Clermont Bears.

The last time Bluff had won a premiership was 24 years ago in 1990 and the following year, Bluff hosted the Grand Final but lost out at home to … the Clermont Bears.

Twenty three years later, who would’ve thought history would bring us back to Macca’s Oval for Bluff’s first home Grand Final in two decades against the team that stole the premiership away all those years ago?

I think some Bluff supporters were reminiscing on the 1991 loss to Clermont and hoping that it wasn't going to happen this time round.

Bluff had also been reminded that the last team to go through the season undefeated and win the Grand Final was the Emerald Tigers in the late 1980’s and that the last team who attempted that feat was the Clermont Bears in 2012, before being beaten in the Grand Final by Peak Downs 16-12. There was certainly a lot of history and nostalgia around the match before we even saw the two teams run onto the ground!

The first game to take centre stage on Macca’s Oval was the Ladies fighting for the inaugural 2014 Ladies Premiership Shield.

This competition incepted earlier this year with three initial teams (Clermont Bears Ladies, Emerald Tigers Ladies and Middlemount Panthers Ladies) and has showcased the talented Ladies in the Central Highlands who can play Rugby League.

At first many spectators thought it was just going to be a gimmick … that was until they saw the first match and the supporter base and following has grown ever since.

The hard-work, persistence and resilience from all three teams has been a defining factor in the survival, development and growth of the competition throughout this year. Special mention needs to be given to the Middlemount Ladies who took on the challenge at the start of the year with only 8-9 players initially. Even though they weren’t able to register a win, they certainly came close many times and have grown in support and registration numbers and are already looking at the 2015 season ahead. 

Both the Emerald Tigers Ladies and Clermont Bears Ladies ran onto the lush and pristine Macca’s Oval turf ready to do battle with their eyes on taking out the 2014 Premiership. On the field, both these teams dislike each other which has caused much rivalry between the two teams, and the Grand Final was no different.

The game was fast-paced, fierce and hard-hitting. Match fitness was a huge key factor and with no fixtures played by either team in the last two weeks, it was what had been performed at training that decided the outcome. It was basically a game about defence and who could defend their line better. Scoring a try was an extra.

For the Tigers Ladies, Casey Watkins was the standout performer. Her constant line breaks through the defence, strategic pinpoint accuracy with passes left and right and her ability to pick the right angle and gap to run through the line was what won the Tigers the match.

Emma Holzwart was also a key to the Tigers success after returning to the side after a few months away. The Tigers halves combination of the captain, Maria Rawiri and Bonnie Walsh was also a key to the Tigers success.

For the Clermont Ladies, Elle Stitt was the standout for her side. Her constant line breaks through the defence lifted the Bears and allowed the backs to attack the try line at a closer distance. Rheenie Devine in the second row was a workhorse in defence and her leadership through her captaincy was outstanding. Erin Maitua also deserves a mention has her quick plays out of dummy-half caught the Tigers defence napping a few times and allowed her to then offload the ball through the line and have the play end up 20-30m from the last tackle.

Carly Bell, Donna Kilpatrick and Sarah Hicks were reasonably quiet in the game, which no doubt would have been a key tactic to prevent breakaway tries from being scored.

All in all, the Ladies game was hard-fought and certainly a crowd favourite for those who hadn’t witnessed a Ladies game before.  The Tigers Ladies should be congratulated on winning the inaugural premiership but no doubt we’ll see both Clermont and Middlemount back next year with their eyes on the prize hoping one day that they will have the chance to lift the Premiership Shield.

Also congratulations to the Referees who officiated the game in a skilful and professional manner. It’s great to see young Touch Judges like Abby Catling and Jack Lonergan have an opportunity to officiate high-level football at a Grand Final. Damian Cavanagh also did a great job as the referee and they certainly did all look good in pink!

After the Ladies, it was time for the Men to take centre stage. Two weeks ago, both teams met for the Major Semi-Final at the same ground with Bluff winning in a thriller 24-20. Both sides had brought a huge supporter base which cheered so loud that the noise of the passing coal trains were inaudible. 

Following on from their female counterparts, the Men’s game was fast-paced, fierce and hard-hitting also. The battle was on between Clermont’s young halfback, Astin Nunan, and experienced halfback and former Jim Gallagher Medallion winner, Mitch Wyatte, who signed for Bluff earlier this year due to Tieri not being able to field a side.

Clermont’s left three-quarter attack of Clayton Reynolds and Sean Haufe were a key pairing that Bluff had to watch out for and Mitch Power for Bluff was fairly safe under the high ball.

Clermont lead the match from start to finish after Sean Haufe scored the first try within the first few minutes of the game. Bluff were in all sorts for the first ten or so minutes before they finally got their first points of the night.

Mitch Wyatte was then given the ball and did the old show-and-go selling about three dummies like they were brand new cars before scoring over the line. At half time, the Bears had the lead into the break 24-10.

In the second half, Clermont came out firing and grew their lead. Bluff eventually started piling on the tries in the last 15 minutes but sadly it was just a little too late, and after 80 minutes of footy, the Clermont Bears were once again declared Premiers just like in 1991, defeating the Rabbitohs 48-38.

The standout of the night was Clayton Humphreys for Clermont. His comeback from ‘retirement’ earlier this year has been a huge success for the Bears as a utility forward playing out of dummy half. His defence was impeccable and in attack, his deadly scoots out of dummy half and draw and passes from the play-the-ball allowed Clermont’s attack to pick the gap in the defence and score.

Sean Haufe was also explosive for Clermont scoring a trifecta in the Grand Final. Haufe who is only 19 years of age currently leads the Central Highlands Top Try-Scorer leaderboard scoring 15 tries in the home and away season. His ability to pick the gap and score as well as defend like a second rower puts his talent above others and by far the Grand Final was Haufe’s best game of 2014.

For Bluff, Mitch Wyatte was the standout leading the side around and setting up most of Bluff’s tries in the game. Brendon Porter should also be mentioned in his role as Lock forward defending well for the Rabbitohs.

The Rabbitohs will be back next season hungry for a premiership. As Mitch Wyatte said in the post-game interview, “you’ve got to lose one to win one”. They have a young but experienced side and have some unfinished business to complete, so no doubt next season we’ll be hearing ‘Hippity Hop, Rabbitohs are on Top’ from all of Bluff’s supporters.

For Clermont, it’s the end of an era for Brendon Finger, Wade Stanton, Clayton Humphreys and Dean Williams with all players hanging up the boots as winners. All four players have offered so much to the Bears and no doubt they’ll be missed next season.

Finally, the officials of the night, Tim Steinhardt in the middle and Bruce Ryan and Joey Pratt on the touch lines, should be thanked and congratulated on a well-directed and controlled match. Their professionalism allowed the match to flow smoothly and made it an enjoyment for all.

Both the Clermont Bears and Emerald Tigers Ladies deserved to take home the 2014 Premierships. They outclassed their opponents and prepared exceptionally well for the match.

It has been a very successful year for the Central Highlands this season, and that success will no doubt continue into the 2015 season. A huge thanks must go to the hard-working players, support staff and committees who work tireless behind the scenes to ensure that the Central Highlands produces the best football possible week-in, week-out.

Emerald Tigers Ladies 10 defeated Clermont Bears Ladies 6

Half Time: 6 - 6

Player of the Final: Casey Watkins (Emerald Tigers Ladies)

ETL Tries: Casey Watkins, Emma Holzwart

ETL Conversions: Maria Rawiri 1/2

CBL Tries: Carly Bell

CBL Conversions: Codie Patterson 1/1

Clermont Bears 48 defeated Bluff Rabbitohs 38

Half Time: 24 - 10 (Clermont)

Player of the Final: Clayton Humphreys (Clermont Bears)

CB Tries: Sean Haufe 3, Clayton Reynolds 2, Nick Deaves, Brad Gela, Clayton Humphreys

CB Conversions: Astin Nunan 8/8

BR Tries: Mitchell Power, Craig Dodd, Blake Vesey, Mitch Wyatte, Daniel Johns, Robert Lammermoor

BR Conversions: Mitch Power 5/7