University of Queensland have claimed their second Hospital Challenge Cup title in three years with a nail-biting 31-26 victory over minor premiers Brothers at Ballymore.
The Heavies starved the Brethren of possession for much of the match as their finals experience and class shone through, before a late flurry gave Brothers the chance to snatch the premiership in the final stages of the game.
UQ held on in the dying minutes to cap a remarkable season with a Grand Final win, after the side was all but written off at the midway point of the season, sitting in seventh on the ladder, and only snuck into the finals series in fourth position.
Harry Hockings was awarded the Tony Shaw Medal as man of the match following a stunning performance from the towering lock.
UQ captain James Dalgleish said the win was down to his sides grit and determination.
“We came out firing and then Brothers, as they’ve done all season, came back really strong and it was a really good effort from our boys to hold them out towards the end,” the flyhalf said.
“We had a pretty tough first half of the season and we learnt a lot from those games and then after beating Easts and GPS we had a really good build up into this weekend and headed in with a lot of momentum.
“In the past few years we’ve been favourites to win the title, so coming here as underdogs we were a bit hungrier and it showed out on the field.
“It shows that we’ve got a lot of heart, the young boys in our side who are inexperienced at this level stood up today and I’m sure they’ll go home proud.
“Mick (Heenan) and Elton (Berrange) are really experienced coaches. We were struggling halfway through the season and it’s a credit to them that we turned it around.”
Uni opened the scoring in the 14th minute through Clifton Setu, who crossed after a Jock Campbell flick pass put Sam Edwards into space in the Heavies half before the winger found James Dalgleish who linked with Setu on his inside.
The Brethren quickly answered back with a try of their own, Reuben Wall scoring off the back of a Bradford Kapa offload close to the line. Saifoloi added the extras to even the score after the opening 19-minutes of play.
The Students were next to put points on the board when an Adam Korczyk break sent a flying Tate McDermott across the line in the 30th minute. Dalgleish slotted the conversion to stretch his side’s lead to a converted-try.
UQ dominated possession and field position for the remainder of the first-half but were unable to consolidate their control of the game into points, as the Heavies headed to the sheds with a narrow 14-7 lead.
Uni stretched their advantage to 17-7 early in the second-forty with a Dalgleish penalty, before the Brethren hit back with a try to Sam Hyne, the result of a Fraser McReight line break.
Saifoloi landed the conversion from close to the left touchline to narrow his side’s deficit to three-points with half-an-hour to play.
Undeterred by their opposition’s second-try, the Heavies continued to dominate possession and soon had another five-pointer when Edwards crossed out wide after sustained pressure on the Brothers line.
The Students scored another when McDermott fooled the defence with a show-and-go close to the line in the 60th minute, the lively scrumhalf crossing for his second to put the lead out to 31-14.
With eight-minutes remaining, Saifoloi gave the Brethren faithful hope of a miraculous comeback when he darted over under the posts to narrow the gap to 10-points, before James Wood was yellow-carded to give the minor-premiers a one-man advantage for the remaining four-minutes.
Brothers quickly made use of their new-found overlap, a Wall cut-out pass finding Byron Ralston who strolled over to score and set up a grandstand finish at 31-26 with two-minutes to play.
It wasn’t to be for the Brethren however, as Sam Wallis snatched the ensuing kick-off and the Heavies held onto the ball as the clock wound down to secure a thrilling 5-point win.
University of Queensland head coach Mick Heenan said: “When you struggle through the middle part of the season like we have it just makes it all more satisfying.
“The players deserved the win today. We knew Brothers were going to be a challenge and it got close at the end, but the team held them out.
“I think in sport, like in life, when you go through a tough time it can go one of two ways, you can fall apart or you can stick together and battle through it.
“That period in the middle of the season made the team spirit come together and we saw that today.”
University of Queensland 31 (T McDermott 2 tries C Setu S Edwards tries J Dalgleish pen 4 cons) defeated Brothers 26 (R Wall S Hyne R Saifoloi B Ralston tries R Saifoloi 3 cons)