The Maitland Blacks fell agonisingly short of breaking a 19-year premiership drought losing 20-12 to Hamilton Hawks in Saturday’s Newcastle rugby union grand final.
The Blacks lived and ultimately fell by their sword of attacking football with too many balls going to ground on contact and from passes at the end of enterprising, running rugby.
However, it only needed for one of those passes to stick and it could have been a completely different result.
Penalties in their own half ultimately proved the difference, with a conversion with five minutes to go taking the game out to an eight-point difference, but even then the never-say-die Blacks were on the attack and were denied a try when the ball went to ground.
Just as significantly the penalties gave the Hawks a glut of possession running into the breeze and they camped on the Maitland line but were unable to breach it until 30 minutes into the second half.
Maitland’s defence was outstanding and stood up to phase and phase of attack only to have face another dose after the referee gave possession back to Hamilton for an early infringement.
The defensive steel showed late in the first half when Hamilton opted to take a field goal to take a 10-5 lead into the break instead of pressing the attack.
Blacks co-captain Chris Logan said Hamilton were too good a side not to eventually take advantage of the large numbers of errors and penalties conceded by the Blacks in their own half.
“We play an attacking brand of footy and some days the passes stick and others they don’t,” he said.
“Taking those risks is how we play our footy, I was responsible for one myself, but I’m never going to get down on anyone for having a go if they think they can pull it off.
“Trusting our instincts is how we got to the grand final and unfortunately today those passes and plays didn’t stick.”
Logan’s co-captain Michael Howell said it was disappointing to lose, but he was proud of his team’s effort particularly in defence and for never giving up.
“Every time they scored we scored next. At no stage did anyone hang their head when we made an error or they scored. We fought it out to the very end,” he said.
“Hamilton are a great side, but we matched them and I think the vast majority of the boys will be back next year to go one better.”
Hamilton opened the scoring when fly-half Dane Sherratt swooped on a loose pass in the sixth minute and ran 30 metres to score beside the posts. He added the extras for 7-0.
Maitland had the better of it for the next 30 minutes.
They hit back in the 17th minute when halfback Max Stafford burst down the short side from a five-metre scrum.
The score was 10-5 at half-time.
Hamilton’s Geraint Weaver burrowed over from close range to extend the margin to 17-5 with 10 minutes to go.
Maitland needed a lifeline and Nick Davidson provided it. On the back of consecutive penalties, the breakaway swivelled over to give the Blacks a sniff at 17-12 with eight minutes remaining.
But unlike the preliminary final, in which they scored the match-winner at the death, there would be no last-grasp win.
Davidson and fellow back-rowers Travis Brooke and John Birrell led the way for the Blacks..
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