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Tigers pounce to create history with grand final win over Bears

Brisbane Tigers coach Matt Church said in his interview to get the Hostplus Cup coach job he wanted to be the coach to break the Tigers premiership drought and he did just that at Kayo Stadium today.

The Tigers beat Burleigh Bears 22-18 in a hard-fought 2023 Hostplus Cup grand final.

Visibly emotional, Church said the team had "created history" and it meant so much to him, to the team and to the club.

"Board members are crying... it's an emotional time... we found a way and we did it," Church said.

"We've broken a drought. Our defence was just outstanding. We hunted them from the start and we just kept going.

"It was an 80-minute performance... we found a way.

"I thought our best footy could beat Burleigh's best footy. Neither side was at our best today but you get that in these games with pressure moments. We owned a few moments a bit better than them.

"Would've preferred it not to be that close but we've done that all year so why make the grand final any different."

Church said there was heaps of support for the side and he was so thankful.

"It means so much... our long-suffering fans, it's been 32 years," Church said.

Winners. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Winners. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

"Just so proud of the group. If someone told me 12 months ago this could've been a possibility, I wouldn't have believed them. I'm choking back tears now."

The crowd was vocal, with plenty of support for both the Tigers and the Bears from the get-go. 

There was plenty of passion on show, aggression and physicality in the first part of the first half, with Tigers prop Tristan Powell crossing for the first points of the game against his old team.

A silky pass from Keano Kini - the eventual Duncan Hall Medallist for player of the match - to Tony Francis led to Burleigh's first try of the game in the 26th minute, before he crossed again only three minutes later to put the Bears in front for the first time in the game. 

Tony Francis and Keano Kini. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Tony Francis and Keano Kini. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

But the two-point lead was short-lived when a pin-point kick from Jonah Pezet found the hands of fellow Melbourne Storm player Kane Bradley at the posts to put the Tigers in front before the break.

Tigers half Pezet kicked a penalty goal just after the break and Max Lehmann ran nearly the length of the field to bag a try, despite the best efforts of Bears flyer Kini to catch him.  

The Bears struck back with skipper Sami Sauiluma barging over off a pass from "the little general" Guy Hamilton.

The game stopped and the stadium was silent when Bears hooker off the bench Vaka Sikahele's leg got caught awkwardly in a tackle and he was taken off by medical staff. With six minutes left, Francis went close to a try in the corner but he failed to ground it.

The Tigers finished the game up 22-18 and the crowd went wild.

Bears coach Luke Burt, disappointed, said it was close and the Tigers deserved the win.

"Full credit to the Tigers," Burt said.

"They made the ruck ugly and that's the way they were going to win... they executed their game plan to perfection and we didn't.

"We needed to earn the field position. I thought we were a bit impatient. If we earnt the field position and played our shape, I thought we were going to be good enough. But to the Tigers' credit, they hardly made an error and made us come off our try line. 

"No one goes out there to lose this match... they were all strong. The year the boys have had, I just can't fault anyone."

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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