Melbourne came into this match unbeaten, winning all their NRC matches easily. Perth were not overawed though and stayed steeled in their resolve to topple their more fancied hosts.
Melbourne have been unbeaten all season while Perth did just enough to make the final four, despite losing more than they have won. Perth however bolstered their side with plenty of Super Rugby experienced players. Conversely the Rising lost a few Super players, three to the spring tour Wallaby squad. Melbourne were the bookies favourites paying only $1.16 compared to the Spirit’s $5. But Perth were reading from a different script.
Melbourne came out of the blocks full of running. Jack Debreczini went close twice but the Rising couldn’t turn possession and territory into points. The Rising chose the scrum option 8 metres out and in something of a surprise got shunted off the ball, Perth getting the tight head penalty and were able to clear.
Perth were defending well but couldn’t get the ball or the opportunity to play in their attacking half. By ten minutes into the contest Melbourne had 87% possession and it wasn’t until the sixteenth minute that the ball was in Perth’s attacking twenty two. To make things harder, Melbourne’s scrum was coming good and chalking up their own tighthead penalty.
With 23 minutes gone, despite advantages in both possession and territory Melbourne still could not get the ball down over the line. When Perth finally got their chance off a lineout on the edge of the twenty two, they made the most of it. Haylett-Petty showed great awareness and skill to grubber behind the Melbourne defense and with no one close to stopping him Marcel Brache collected and grounded the ball in the one action.
It seemed to take a long time for the first try but there was no such waiting for the second. It was Brache again, scooping up a loose pass from Melbourne centre Naivulu. Showing great pace, Brache dotted down under the posts one minute after his first effort.
Perth were now up thirteen to nil, the Rising had been utterly dominant but failed to cash in, now found themselves two tries down. Their next visit into the Perth’s territory had to result in points and it did. Melbourne secured their lineout and Mitch Inman collected a simple pass from Jack Debreczeni and with pace and aggression ran straight through a seemingly confused Perth defence twenty meters to score.
The score was now 13-8, with twelve minutes to go in the half. Melbourne continued to improve their scrum dominance, but despite this didn’t score again. Perth had enough ball now but didn’t score either so the score remained 13-8 at the break.
Perth began the second half in the best way possible with a pick and drive try to tight head Oliver Hoskins. With only two minutes gone they had destroyed any notion that their first half performance was a fluke. Perth were now again up by thirteen, the score 21-8 with 42min gone.
Melbourne could see their season on the line but couldn’t land a killer blow in attack, Timani went close but was ruled to have not released the ball when he was initially tackled and Perth were off the hook. Jonah Placid had no such trouble though, the Melbourne full back took it upon himself to simply beat half of Perth’s defence on his way to a great solo try from a kick return. With fifty two minutes gone, Melbourne were back within five and back full of belief.
Perth weren’t having any of that though. After a few kicking duels, they put ten phases together, and sucked in the defence to force an overlap, this allowed outside centre Ammon Matuauto to dive over wide on the right. Zack Holmes was kicking superbly and added the extras. Perth again out to a thirteen point buffer now with twenty minutes left.
Perth weren’t going to wait for Melbourne to try and chase them down though. They were hungry for more meat themselves. Only six minutes since their last try Perth captain Sam Wykes went over from close range and with Holme’s deft boot adding the conversion, Melbourne found themselves down by twenty one (16-37).
With under fifteen minutes to go Mitch Inman took a quick tap on half way making twenty meters, Lopeti Timani added his bulk to the cause and Melbourne were in a position to strike back. The try scored by Sefanaia Naivalu was well set up by Lloyd Johansson with a classic draw and dish. Debreczeni nailed the crucial conversion and the margin was back to thirteen, with twelve minutes to go.
Melbourne were playing with real hope and endeavour, but Perth were matching their intensity. Wykes made a big play trapping the ball in a maul Melbourne had worked hard to push up the field.
Melbourne looked to be closing the gap when Inman received a gilt edged chance, Naivalu put him into space after punching through the line. Perth had the defensive ability to force a knock on from the big inside centre and were awarded a scrum.
Inman was to make up for his mistake though with a charge down which gave Melbourne a five metre scrum. Melbourne worked hard and Perth’s Hardwick went for some cynical ruck play to ease the pressure. The ref was quick to pull out the yellow card and from the resulting scrum Debreczeni strolled over to score next to the posts. Melbourne should have been back to within five but Debreceni missed the simple conversion in the rush to get the restart.
With only five minutes to go Melbourne needed a converted try to tie things up and head into overtime, they would also have a man advantage. Perth however managed to get the ball and the territory and through some more great team based phase play, Matuauto managed to score his second try icing the game. Holmes converted as the final siren sounded, Perth winning through to the grand final 29-45.
The Game Changer
Despite nearly all the ball and possession in the first twenty minutes Perth’s defence held strong. The Spirit then scored two tries in quick succession to really take the momentum away from the hosts.
The G&GR MOTM
Sam Wykes. The Perth captain led by example, scoring a try and defending well.
Players to watch
Zack Holmes kicking meant Melbourne struggled to get close on the scoreboard. Both Marcel Brache and Ammon Matuauto finished well, both being in the right place. Jonah Placid’s try was something special, amazing footwork.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Mitch Inman 28′, Jonah Placid 52′, Sefanaia Naivalu 68′, Jack Debreczeni 75′
Conversions: Jack Debreczeni 3/4
Tries: Marcel Brache 23′ 24′, Oliver Hoskins 42′, Sam Wykes 66′, Ammon Matuauto 59′ 79′
Conversions: Zack Holmes 5/6
Cards & citings
Richard Hardwick (Perth): Yellow Card 74min