Crushers #getonthetrain to dual premiership

They built their grand final campaign on the hashtag #getonthetrain and the Blackwater Crushers did just that – railroading their opposition to secure both Central Highlands Men's and Women's premierships in an emphatic fashion last Saturday.

In front of just under 2000 people at Macca's Oval, Bluff, the club became just the second in Central Highlands history to assert their dominance with the Men's / Women's double, repeating the success of the Emerald Tigers' feat two years prior.

The Purcell Engineering Men's decider was primed to be one for the ages, being the first time that both Bluff and Blackwater met in the big dance.

The Rabbitohs finished on top at the end of the regular season, only recording the one loss in the last round to Blackwater.

They redeemed themselves the next week in the major semi-final over the Crushers with a 30-14 win to book a home grand final.

The premiers qualified for the grand final the "long way" after their semi-final loss, claiming a 36-22 victory over Springsure in the preliminary final to setup yet another enthralling contest between the region's two biggest rivals.

After ruing last year's grand final defeat, the home side were looking for early points and club stalwart Chris Conway answered the calling in the fourth minute.

For the next 10 minutes, the game was a stalemate as both teams grinded away in the hope of cracking their opposition, which the home side eventually did in the 14th minute.

Featuring in his 13th grand final, Bluff five-eighth Mitch Wyatte exposed Blackwater's short right edge and threw a cut-out pass to Blake Vesey for their second try to lead 12-0.

With both sides having to already contend with light drizzle, consistent rain started to fall throughout the backend of the first half, making ball security key.

Despite many attempts from both sides to trouble the scorers, Bluff kept their handy lead at the break with a big second half needed by Blackwater if they wanted to be any chance.

The Crushers started strongly in the second stanza and three minutes after the break, West Bundaberg-import Josh Tanner rolled a nicely timed grubber into the in-goal for former Gold Coast Titan Jai Ingram to chase and score.

Six minutes later, Tanner got on the scoreboard himself with a well-executed chip and chase to score under the posts, locking the scores up at 12-12.

The former CQ Capra had another hand in the try to break the deadlock in the 56th minute, kicking for the corner leading to Shae Cox crossing and converting to make it 18-12.

In the following set, Blackwater lost the ball, giving the Rabbitohs a sniff, and Chris McKay gave the Rabbits hope with a try in the north-eastern corner.

The all-important conversion was waived away, but the four much-needed points reduced the deficit to just two with a frantic final 20 minutes ahead, keeping everyone on their edge of their seats.

Poor ball security in the wet conditions crippled both teams, but Bluff seemed to lose possession at the costliest times.

With 12 minutes remaining, Blackwater had all the ascendancy attacking Bluff's line, allowing Cox to break through a broken Bluff defensive line to score what turned out to be the match-winning try.

The Rabbitohs threw everything but the kitchen sink in the last ten minutes but the Crushers had done enough, amassing 24 points to the Rabbitohs' lone four.

The victory breaks the club's 13 year premiership drought, last lifting the silverware in 2005 against Middlemount.

 

The 13 year drought is over! 🏆💪🚂

Posted by Central Highlands Rugby League on Sunday, 9 September 2018

Tanner was judged the player of the final for his heavy involvement in his side's second half comeback – scoring the try to level the game and assisting in two others.

Despite grand final number 13 proving unlucky for Wyatte, his experience and involvement in the opening 40 minutes really led the way for the Rabbitohs, however the Crushers did their homework at the break and disarmed the Rabbitohs gun half.

The win is Blackwater's third title from seven grand finals since the merger between Centrals, Devils and Souths to become the Crushers.

BLACKWATER CRUSHERS 24 (Shae Cox 2, Josh Tanner, Jai Ingram tries; Shae Cox 4 goals) defeated BLUFF RABBITOHS 16 (Chris Conway, Chris McKay, Blake Vesey tries; Mitch Power 2 goals) at Macca's Oval Bluff.

Purcell's Engineering Men's player of the final Josh Tanner with QRL Central Region Manager Glenn Ottaway.
Purcell's Engineering Men's player of the final Josh Tanner with QRL Central Region Manager Glenn Ottaway. ©Cameron Stallard

CRUSHETTES CLAIM MAIDEN TITLE

In the preluding match, the Allied Pickfords Women's grand final between the Crushettes and Emerald Cowgirls was one for the history books, being the closest decider in the competition's five-year existence.

The game had a perfect narrative with last year's beaten grand finalists chasing their maiden title against the Cowgirls who were playing in their maiden grand final.

In what has been described as one of the fastest and most intense games of women's rugby league played on the Highlands, it took 12 minutes before the first points were recorded with Tasma Vesey crossing first for the Crushettes.

In the following set, the Cowgirls levelled up the scoring by an old combination who plagued the Crushettes' in last year's decider when playing for Clermont – Bec Stokes to Elle Stitt.

The Cowgirls were in again the following set after getting the ball back from a Crushettes' error.

With the 'underdogs' ahead 12-6 near the break, a costly obstruction penalty saw the Crushettes get a penalty close to the Cowgirls' line, to which Zoe Mackay capitalised.

At the break, it was all locked up at 12-12 and as the supporters really started to settle for a big final 35 minutes ... so did the rain.

Five minutes into the second half, a well-structured backline movement from left to right allowed Megan Smith to break the deadlock for the 'home side', but the kick was missed leaving the margin only four points, 16-12.

The Cowgirls didn't drop their heads and remained in the contest, finally being rewarded with Naomi Zonca crossing to score the equaliser from a set-play off a scrum.

With just over 15 minutes remaining, both teams showed their grit in the wet and kept everyone on the edge of their seats, or even off them with the game so intense.

Three minutes remained, and many were blowing the dust off the extra-time rulebook with the scores locked at 16-16 ... but then the match winner.

Fifth tackle, 20 metres out. Blackwater hooker and captain Miranda Davidson looked up to see a broken defensive line and pounced, breaking through to score underneath the posts.

90 seconds remained and when the Cowgirls eventually got the ball back from Blackwater's set, they had one play to come off the back fence.

It wasn't to be ... the siren sounded, and Blackwater claimed the premiership 22-16 in an absolute thriller.

 

That maiden premiership feeling! 🏆💪🚂

Posted by Central Highlands Rugby League on Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Crushettes' Brooke Slatter was player of the final for her watertight defence and attacking flair at fullback, with highly commended performances from Vesey and Macey Finlay.

For the runners up, Stokes was the Cowgirls' best, almost steering her young and budding side to their first title in their four-year infancy.

Kailah Rogers and Deb Barchard were also strong in the middle, but it wasn't enough to stop the Crushettes who were out to avenge last year's grand final loss to the Bears.

BLACKWATER CRUSHETTES 22 (Zoe Mackay, Macey Finlay, Tasma Vesey, Miranda Davidson tries; Zoe Mackay 3 goals) defeated EMERALD COWGIRLS 16 (Elle Stitt, Naomi Zonca, Caitlin Saunders tries; Kailah Rogers 2 goals) at Macca's Oval, Bluff.

Allied Pickfords player of the final Brooke Slatter with Queensland Country Women's coach Alan McIndoe (left) and CH Women's coach Jay Denman (right).
Allied Pickfords player of the final Brooke Slatter with Queensland Country Women's coach Alan McIndoe (left) and CH Women's coach Jay Denman (right). ©Cameron Stallard

JUNIOR GRAND FINAL

Success also came for the Blackwater Crushers in the Under 12 grand final, defeating the Springsure Mountain Men 10-6 earlier in the day.

In the other junior deciders, the weekly 600+ kilometre commitment for most players in the Gemfields Giants Under 14s paid off, recording a big 44-22 win over Emerald Brothers Blue and the Emerald Tigers upset minor premiers Emerald Brothers 18-10 in the Under 16 finale.

...........

Congratulations to the Bluff Rabbitohs committee and their team of hard-working volunteers for hosting an outstanding and successful Central Highlands junior and senior combined grand final.

The faithful supporters showed up in numbers to back their favourite team and rugby league in general and should be congratulated for their attendance on Saturday and throughout this season.

Sincere thanks should also be extended to the Central Highlands Rugby League committee; notably President Greg Coase, Secretary Chrissy Walters, Treasurers Tracy McIndoe and Colleen Richards, Independent Director Graham 'Storky' Campbell and school-based trainee Jasmine Walters.

Finally, without the generous support of this season's sponsors, the competition would simply not be possible.

Thanks to: Purcell's Engineering, Allied Pickfords, Emerald Gas Supplies, Emerald Ford, The Irish Village, C&K MacNab Concreting and Hit94.7.