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Tamika Upton pounces late to give Knights NRLW grand final win over Titans

The Newcastle Knights twice came from behind to defeat the Gold Coast Titans 24-18 in the 2023 NRLW grand final. Led by Tamika Upton, who scored two tries and set up two more, the Knights overcame deficits of eight and six, the latter with 10 minutes to go, to make it back-to-back titles.

Upton followed up her Dally M medal win on Wednesday by claiming her second straight Karyn Murphy medal in what was one of the great grand final performances, twice turning the game on her own.

Conditions at Accor Stadium were brutal for the NRLW decider with cooling fans set up behind both benches and slushy machines provided for both teams on a sweltering day in Sydney.

NRLW grand final 2023: Newcastle Knights beat Gold Coast Titans – live reactionRead more

Gold Coast fullback Evania Pelite set the tone early for the Titans with two hitups in the opening set followed by a fierce kick return. That led to the first scoring opportunity of the game when the Titans were awarded a penalty but the Titans failed to capitalise.

Minor premiers Newcastle were heavily favoured but were slow out of the blocks, struggling to get off their own goalline for the opening 10 minutes. An error by Laishon Albert-Jones did not help while the Titans did a good job at keeping the kicking away from Jesse Southwell.

The Titans set up camp in the Knights half but lacked the touch to break down the defending premiers until the 14th minute when a Lauren Brown inside ball to Jaime Chapman, who steamed onto it at pace and crashed over Upton for the opening four-pointer.

It was a ruthless start from the Titans, who completed their opening 15 sets and continually got over the advantage line through props Jess Elliston and Shannon Mato.

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Gold Coast extended the lead 21 minutes in with a penalty goal from Zara Canfield following a Hannah Southwell penalty for pulling the hair of opposite lock Georgia Hale.

Georgia Hale of the Titans has her hair pulled.Georgia Hale of the Titans has her hair pulled. Photograph: Mark Evans/AAP

The first bit of relief for the Knights came 24 minutes in when Belinda Sharpe awarded the Knights a penalty for holding down in the tackle. They didn’t waste the opportunity with Upton sending winger Jasmin Strange over with a beautiful double-pump cutout pass.

The Knights levelled the score with five minutes to go in the opening half through former Young Matilda Sheridan Gallagher following the Titans’ first error. A play down the right side saw Shanice Parker scoop a pass to her winger, who sped away for Newcastle’s second. Parker got her own four-pointer two minutes later when Upton snuck down the blind and delivered a beautiful short ball that allowed the centre to crash over untouched.

Goalkicking let the Knights down but they were thrilled to lead 12-8 at the break considering how little possession and field position they had for the majority of the half.

In a repeat of the first half, the Titans scored with an identical try to their first when Chapman took an inside ball, fended off Albert-Jones and planted down for her double to open the second half scoring.

Tamika Upton scores the first of her two tries for the Knights.Tamika Upton scores the first of her two tries for the Knights. Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images

Slow away again, Strange knocked the ball on and from the ensuring scrum Chapman burst through a poor attempted tackle from Parker with just one hand on the ball to confirm just the second ever NRLW grand final hat-trick. Within 10 minutes of half-time, the Titans were back on top 18-12 with all the momentum.

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Two head high tackles from Niall Williams-Guthrie and Jessika Elliston put the Knights in prime position to fight back with 20 to go but a disjointed set followed by a poor Upton grubber let the Titans off the hook. Newcastle were back on the attack two minutes later and Upton weaved her magic again putting Parker through a gap but a magnificent tackle from hat-trick hero Chapman and Pelite prevented her from grounding the ball. A horrid play from the resumption saw the Knights lose 30 metres and all momentum.

Controversy hit with 16 minutes to go when Chapman and Pelite fumbled over a kick return with Chapman giving herself up for knocking the ball on. Somehow referee Belinda Sharpe missed it.

A magnificent strip from Sheridan Gallagher gave the Knights the ball back with 10 minutes to go in a play that turned the match and the elusive Upton dived over late in the set. Jesse Southwell slotted the conversion and it was 18-all.

The first to blink late was Titans halfback Chantay Kiria-Ratu, who put down a pass on halfway when attempting to kick. The Titans paid the price when Upton grubbered for herself, collected the ricochet and planted down for her second with four minutes to go.

The Titans set up a grandstand finish by collecting the short kickoff but a short pass from Kiria-Ratu was put down by Zara Canfield and the Knights had all but secured their second straight premiership.