Tamika Upton of the Knights’ NRLW victory over the Titans

Tamika Upton of the Knights’ NRLW victory over the Titans

The Newcastle Knights secured a thrilling 24-18 victory over the Gold Coast Titans in the 2023 NRLW Grand Final. Tamika Upton, who had an outstanding performance, scoring two tries and assisting in two others, played a pivotal role in the Knights’ comeback from an eight-point deficit and a six-point deficit with just 10 minutes remaining. This win marked the Knights’ second consecutive NRLW title.

Upton’s remarkable display in the grand final earned her the Karyn Murphy medal for the second year in a row, following her recent Dally M medal win. Her exceptional performance played a crucial role in turning the game in favor of the Knights.

The harsh conditions at Accor Stadium, including sweltering heat, were mitigated with cooling fans and slushy machines for the players on both benches.

The Gold Coast Titans began the game strongly, with fullback Evania Pelite making two impactful hitups and an aggressive kick return in the opening set. This early momentum led to a scoring opportunity when the Titans were awarded a penalty, but they were unable to capitalize on it.

The Newcastle Knights, who were the minor premiers and heavy favorites, had a slow start and struggled to advance beyond their own goal line in the initial 10 minutes. An error by Laishon Albert-Jones further complicated their efforts, while the Titans effectively kept their kicks away from Jesse Southwell.

The Titans established their presence in the Knights’ half but initially found it challenging to breach the defending champions’ defense. However, in the 14th minute, Lauren Brown delivered an inside ball to Jaime Chapman, who accelerated onto it and crossed the try line, opening the scoring for the Titans.

The Titans displayed a strong start, successfully completing their initial 15 sets and consistently gaining ground through the efforts of props Jess Elliston and Shannon Mato.

Gold Coast increased their lead to 21 minutes into the game with a penalty goal by Zara Canfield, which resulted from a penalty against Hannah Southwell for pulling the hair of Georgia Hale, the opposing lock.

Tamika Upton of the Knights' NRLW victory over the Titans

The Newcastle Knights found some relief 24 minutes into the game when Belinda Sharpe awarded them a penalty for holding down in the tackle. They made the most of this opportunity as Tamika Upton executed a beautiful double-pump cutout pass, sending winger Jasmin Strange over for a try.

With just five minutes remaining in the first half, the Knights managed to level the score through former Young Matilda Sheridan Gallagher, taking advantage of the Titans’ first error. A play down the right side saw Shanice Parker pass to her winger, who raced away for Newcastle’s second try. Parker scored her own four-pointer two minutes later when Upton made a sneaky move down the blind side, delivering a beautiful short pass that allowed the center to cross the try line untouched.

Despite their struggles with goalkicking, the Knights were thrilled to lead 12-8 at halftime, considering their limited possession and field position for most of the half.

In a manner reminiscent of the first half, the Titans scored an identical try to their first early in the second half. Jaime Chapman once again took an inside ball, fended off Laishon Albert-Jones, and scored her second try of the match.

Once again, the Knights got off to a slow start, and Jasmin Strange knocked the ball on. From the ensuing scrum, Jaime Chapman burst through a poor attempted tackle from Shanice Parker, holding the ball with just one hand, to complete her second NRLW grand final hat-trick. Within 10 minutes of halftime, the Titans were back in the lead at 18-12, with all the momentum on their side.

The Knights found themselves in a favorable position with 20 minutes to go after two high tackles from Niall Williams-Guthrie and Jessika Elliston. However, a disjointed set followed, along with a poor Upton grubber that let the Titans off the hook. Nevertheless, Newcastle regained their offensive momentum two minutes later when Upton orchestrated a play, sending Parker through a gap. Unfortunately, a superb tackle from hat-trick hero Chapman and Pelite prevented Parker from grounding the ball. The Knights then made a costly mistake, losing 30 meters and their momentum.

Controversy arose with 16 minutes remaining when Chapman and Pelite fumbled over a kick return, with Chapman seemingly knocking the ball on. However, referee Belinda Sharpe missed the call.

A crucial strip by Sheridan Gallagher handed the Knights the ball with 10 minutes left, a pivotal play that turned the tide. Upton capitalized on the opportunity, diving over late in the set. Jesse Southwell successfully converted, leveling the score at 18-all.

Late in the game, Titans halfback Chantay Kiria-Ratu made a critical error, dropping a pass at midfield while attempting to kick. The Titans paid the price when Upton executed a grubber kick, collected the rebound, and scored her second try with four minutes remaining.

Although the Titans attempted a late comeback with a short kickoff, a short pass from Kiria-Ratu was fumbled by Zara Canfield, effectively securing the Knights’ second consecutive premiership.