Burnside produced the weekend’s biggest finals upset by ending Brighton’s 18-game winning streak and booking their Premier Grade GF berth while Souths are through to yet another women’s decider after rolling Woodville.
Here’s how Week 1 of the senior RUSA finals panned out at Womma Park:
Burnside are the first side locked in for next weekend’s 2023 Premier Grade final after toppling Brighton 27-20 in Saturday’s major semi-final.
A gritty first-half saw the sides locked 5-all at oranges following unconverted tries to Absalom Bayam (17th minute) and Josh Eteuati (29th minute) and a low-scoring result beckoned after Nathan McPherson and Freeman Eder traded penalties early in the second term.
Burnside flipped that script in the 52nd minute, spreading the ball wide to put Isaac Allum-Henson over in the left corner before Brighton hit back in familiar fashion, barging their way upfield with close-running forwards before a driving Estian Strauss found the equaliser.
With the scores again tied just 10 minutes from time, it was Nichel Lam Sam who broke the game open with a ruck turnover inside the Tigers’ 22 before scoring a crucial try two phases later.
Now leading 22-15, the Double Blues had one foot in the grand final and Keanu Eliepa ensured the second followed suit, combining with Edward Wilkes to cross in the far-left corner and send the Burnside bench into raptures.
Strauss’ second try in the dying seconds gave the Tigers’ faithful a sniff but time was against the defending champs as full-time finally blew across Womma Park.
The Tigers must now regroup to face Southern Suburbs in this week’s preliminary final after the Bulls’ 27-23 minor semi-final win over Old Collegians.
A blistering start saw Old Colls lead 16-0 after 30 minutes before Souths kicked into gear, laying on five consecutive tries to lead 27-16 with just 10 minutes remaining.
A 75th minute Kane Golding charge-down try set the scene for a late heist as Old Colls regained possession and piggybacked upfield from multiple penalties.
But it wasn’t to be for Alex Rokobaro’s side as an unmarked Kurt McKinley lost possession with the tryline begging in the game’s penultimate act, handing Souths a final scrum and exit to seal the win.
Preliminary Final: Brighton v Southern Suburbs (Saturday 9 September, 3:30pm @ Tregenza Oval)
Souths also found joy in the women’s major semi-final with a Te Uira Wirihana-Hawea hat-trick spearheading Souths’ march into yet another women’s decider.
Emma Yates’ side were imperious at Womma Park with winger Wirihana-Hawea and usual suspects Frances Afeaki and Teanu Karpani running rampant but even the premiership coach was surprised by her side’s 41-19 win over Woodville.
“We never assume anything in games like this and on paper Woodville have more girls in the state side, so we know what they’re capable of,” Yates said.
“Either side could’ve taken that game but our girls just switched on from the get-go and were really good.”
“Te Uira’s a baby of the team - it's her first year as a senior player and she was great but I thought Alia Thomas really stood up as well.
“She’s another first-year player who’s grown throughout the season and she had a great performance against Woodville.”
Meanwhile the Wasps return to the drawing board ahead of this weekend’s preliminary final showdown with Adelaide University, who handed Burnside a 48-7 drubbing in Sunday’s minor semi-final.
Led by hat-trick hero Ellie Konopka, the students laid on six second-half tries to blow Burnside away and enter this weekend’s clash full of confidence following narrow losses to Woodville during the regular season (10-5 in Round 16 & 26-15 in Round 7).
Preliminary Final: Woodville v Adelaide University (Saturday 9 September, 11:50am @ Tregenza Oval)
A 17-point haul from fullback James Hopkinson proved the difference as Old Collegians upset minor premiers Brighton in Saturday’s major semi-final.
Hopkinson’s boot anchored Old Colls’ first-half surge at Womma Park with the Tigers unable to reel them in despite scoring four tries to three.
Brighton can nevertheless earn their shot at revenge by progressing through this weekend’s preliminary final against Barossa Rams, who outmuscled Burnside 29-20 in the minor semi-final.
Not even wayward goalkicking to stop the Rams as lock Amininiasi Vutulevu and centre Hauga Junior scored five tries between them to book Barossa’s place in Week 2 of Finals.
Preliminary Final: Brighton v Barossa (Saturday 9 September, 1:40pm @ Tregenza Oval)
The Tigers’ Week 1 woes continued in Third Grade with minor premiers Brighton Gold crumbling to a 50-17 loss against Barossa in the major semi-final.
Backrower Aminasi Rokaci, halfback Tim Kavasi, and flyhalf Sekove Duakorovatu were chief destroyers for a Rams’ outfit that comprehensively outplayed the Tigers and enter next week’s grand final as deserving favourites.
Brighton Gold must regroup to face a red-hot Burnside fresh from dismantling Onkaparinga 57-14 in last weekend’s minor semi-final.
Karl Poppelwell, Vitioli Maka and Benjamin Brierly all bagged doubles in the Double Blues’ win as Onkas farewelled their only horse in the finals race.
Preliminary Final: Brighton v Burnside (Saturday 9 September, 10am @ Tregenza Oval).