The Wallabies have suffered a cruel injury blow with Reece Hodge ruled out of the spring tour after fracturing an ankle.
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The Perth Spirit have tackled their way to a 20-16 win in the National Rugby Championship grand final over NSW Country in Tamworth on Saturday night.
The Spirit led from start to finish and took home the title on the back of a man of the match performance from Richard Hardwick, who was awarded the inaugural Phil Waugh Medal for man of the match.
“We don’t mind making it a bit hard for ourselves,” Spirit captain Heath Tessmann said.
“But I couldn’t be happier with how we closed that game out and I’m so proud of all the boys.
“It’s an old cliche but it’s true, defence wins championships. All 23 players stepped up, we were hard, we were physical, which is what we really went out there to do tonight.”
But it was a piece of individual brilliance which opened the scoring in the 30th minute, when Spirit fullback Luke Morahan shed multiple tackles in a run from inside his own half to streak away, then kick and regather to score.
With tries worth six points in the NRC, it didn’t take long before another one came when Spirit scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens finished out wide after a neat offload from Onehunga Havili to make it 12-0 to the visitors.
Desperately needing to get on the board, NSW Country’s break came through giant backrower Sam Figg who barged over just before halftime to close the gap to four points after Andrew Deegan’s conversion.
Louwrens snuck onto the blind side from a Spirit scrum win deep in the Eagles half to go over untouched only four minutes into the second half.
Both sides then slugged it out until the final ten minutes, when NSW Country substitute Tom Hill barged over and Deegan converted, closing the gap to just four points and setting up an exciting finish.
But the Spirit managed to hold on take out their first NRC title, after Brisbane City won the championship in the competition’s first two seasons.