The University Pirates ended Casuarina’s reign as champion club with a thrilling 32-27 victory in last night’s Darwin Rugby Union Grand Final at Rugby Park.
The match was a culmination of arguably the most exciting finals series in the code’s 38 year local history.
The match was six minutes old when Zac Phillips scored in the corner to draw first blood for the Cougars.
When Casuarina next found their way to the University end of the ground Bobby Nurse crashed through to score.
The Phillips conversion gave the reigning Premier a 12-0 lead.
University were not over awed by Casuarina’s early dominance and at the pace they were playing the game.
The Pirates regathered the ball from the re-start and a few phases later full back Anthony Heal went over.
Robert Butcher landed a long range penalty goal at the thirty minute mark and the Pirates were only trailing by four.
With two minutes left Casuarina gained a tight head scrum just outside their quarter but quickly turned it over and Heal was over after a few passes for his second try and University went to the break leading 13-12.
The game had been played with all the intensity expected of a Grand Final.
The forwards went at each other with unbridled enthusiasm and aggression and it took its toll.
Pirate’s Prop Kosta Elenis came off late in the half while and Nate Lamb and Tyson Doughty failed to return after the break for the Cougars.
University extended their lead when Shaun Wauchope scored in the corner and with Butcher’s conversion the lead was out to eight.
From another tight head scrum the Cougars number 8 Joe Albert was held up over line.
After the ensuing scrum and several pick and drives later Eric Ericson scored wide out.
Phillips conversion was wide and the Cougars were down by three.
Casuarina was almost immediately camped in Pirate Territory and Ericson was in for his second try to regain the lead for his side.
A box kick on half way and a favourable bounce for Simaika Salaa who combined with Matt Weyers to send Vito Di Muro over.
Weyers replaced Phillips as kicker but was unable to add the extras however the Cougars were up 27-20.
With seven minute left and University on the attack Frank Jennings put a grubber kick into the in-goal which Butcher pounced on to score.
His conversion from the side line levelled the match at 27-all and the highest aggregate score in a Grand Final had been established.
Butcher missed a penalty goal with two minutes remaining and the match looked destined to go to extra time for only the second time.
However a poor 22 metre restart by Casuarina gave the Pirates one last roll of the dice and Wauchope delivered with a spectacular try in the corner with no time left to play which secured a tenth premiership for his club.
The Willie Ellsion Medal for the best on ground could have gone to several players on either side however the performance of University Full Back Anthony was acknowledged as having the greatest impact on the game’s outcome.
In the Reserve Grade Grand Final Palmerston defeated Casuarina 24-23 after the Cougars led 15-12 at half time.
University 32: A Heal 2, S Wauchope 2, R Butcher Tries R Butcher 2 Conv 1 Pen
Def Casuarina 27 E Ericson 2, Z Phillips, C Nurse, V Di Muro Tries Z Phillips ConvThe opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby.