The Parramatta Eels have snapped a four-year winning streak by the St George Illawarra Dragons to win their maiden NSW Cup Grand Final 54-44 at the Menai Indoor Sports Centre.
The Dragons – the minor premiers for the 2022 season – were hunting for their fifth straight NSW Wheelchair Rugby League club premiership. But a determined Eels outfit led by captain-coach Brett Henman had other ideas.
“It might seem like an upset for some but not for us. I knew we had it in us,” Henman said.
“They got a couple of early tries in the second half to make things interesting but then we settled back into the rhythm we had late in the first half.”
The Dragons shot out to a 22-4 lead but were reeled in by the Eels to snatch the halftime lead 30-22. A hat-trick to Diab Karim laid the foundation for Parramatta’s comeback.
In the second half the lead changed three times. The Dragons kept the Eels pinned in their half and were rewarded with three tries to Cory Cannane, Jeremy Ayoub, and Rick Engles to snatch back the lead 44-36.
At first the Eels couldn’t maintain the momentum they created earlier but then things started to click into gear once more. Tries to William Derederenalagi, Karim, Liam Luff and Joey Abboud had the Eels back in front (54-44) with six minutes left on the clock.
The Dragons didn’t cross their line again.
“I just told the boys ‘Let’s take our time. We don’t have to score off every play’,” Henman said.
“So we settled down, defended well in the middle, and let them make the mistakes. And now we get our names on the trophy for the first time.”
For the Dragons, captain-coach Craig Cannane paid tribute to the Eels for their fightback.
“There were parts in that game where we had the momentum, then they’d get it back and we’d have to fight for it again,” Cannane said.
“And that’s what is so great about wheelchair rugby league. It’s a small field so once a team gets a roll-on it’s very hard to stop them.
“In the past with the lead we got back we’d have kept it. But the Eels were too good today.”
In the earlier game Penrith survived a second-half points surge by Cronulla Sharks for a 30-24 victory in the NSW Plate final.
The Panthers led 26-6 at halftime off the back of four tries to one. But the Sharks outscored them in the second 18-4 as they capitalised on a wealth of possession.
In the end it was five tries apiece, with Sharks Emily-Louise Becroft picking up three, but the difference came down to the conversions.
The medals to the winning teams, and Player of the Match Liam Luff (Eels), were presented by NSWRL chief executive David Trodden.
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