It was two for the price of one at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday, with the NPL NSW Women’s, and FNSW League One Women’s competitions having their grand finals at the same time.
Macarthur Rams took on Bulls FC Academy with a 6pm kick-off on Field 1 in the NPL NSW Women’s grand final, while Hills United and St George FC did battle with a 6:30pm kick-off on Field 2.
Macarthur Rams vs Bulls FC Academy
Stephen Peters and the Macarthur Rams were hoping to make it back-to-back grand final victories, after a dominant season in the competition, narrowly falling short to APIA Leichhardt for the premiership.
It was a cagey, albeit rough affair between the two sides in the first half, as neither wanted to be the first to concede.
Both keepers had to come up strong to keep scores level heading into half-time, with neither side finding the breakthrough.
The Bulls FC defence would have to come up strong to open the second half, with Macarthur creating a few big opportunities in the opening five minutes.
Kelli Brown had Macarthur’s best chance 17 minutes into the second half, but her shot would narrowly veer to the left of the goal, denying the Rams the opener.
Charlotte Lancaster would deny a breaking Melissa Caceres moments later in a rough challenge which saw Lancaster become the second Bulls FC player to receive a yellow card.
With end to end action bringing up chances for both sides, the Rams would strike first.
A failed clearance by Claudia Valetta saw Tenealle Hay cross it into the box with Leena Khamis making no mistake to make it 1-0 to Macarthur, and Khamis would seal the deal in the 87th minute, nabbing a brace from a corner and sending the Rams fans into a frenzy.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum post-game, Rams coach Stephen Peters describe the feeling as “amazing”, while noting the side had been thinking about it all year.
“They put it in my head at the start of the year,” he said on going back-to-back.
Having arrived at the club in 2021, there was no grand final that year, and winning the 2022 and 2023 editions, gives the coach a 100 per cent success rate in grand final victories at the Macarthur Rams.
“The team’s just amazing. There’s always been a winning culture in the club.
“When I came to the club, they were in a pretty precarious position, but we brought in the right people to lift us back to where we belong.
“I’m just really proud of the way we played this year, not just winning, but the 11 wins in a row was amazing.
“I’m just super stoked.”
For Leena Khamis, who was named player of the match, it is the first time in her storied career with the Rams she has won consecutive grand finals, and many people are wondering if this was her last go around before retirement in a storied career.
Khamis, however, is keeping tight-lipped on any decision.
“I’ve tried to get it out of her but she won’t give me much,” Peters said.
“I did ask her point blank two weeks ago, but she hasn’t given me an answer yet.”
Khamis, when asked, also didn’t give an answer.
“[I’m] not sure. I’m on such a high at the moment. We’re going to celebrate. Bodies getting older and it’s taking longer to recover.
“We’ll see. I don’t know. We’ll see. It might be, it might not be. Ask me again in another six months.”
Because of A-League Women contracts, players like Tegan Bertolissio and Maya Lobo were unable to take part in the game.
Peters said it involved some tough conversations with the A-League Women clubs.
“[It was] very difficult, and obviously each one had their own policies on that” he said.
“We’re very thankful to the Wanderers for allowing the girls that play there to play.
“Obviously other clubs had there reasons for why not, but you’ve got to respect that and move forward.”
Kelli Brown is one of those players who was allowed to play.
She will return to the A-League Women competition this season with the Wellington Phoenix after missing out on a contract in the 2022/23 season.
When asked about the impact he, and the Rams had, in helping Brown get a new contract, Peters described it as why he coaches.
“That’s why I coach to be honest.
“Not just that, but we had three girls come from the institute last year that were 16, turning 17, [and] all three of them got into [the] A-League (India Breier, Tegan Bertolissio, and Maya Lobo).
“I just couldn’t be happier with her season.”
In her words, Brown was “super grateful” for the Rams in being able to help her get that contract with the Phoenix.
“I obviously wouldn’t have been able to do it without the people here at Rams, and all the support from Rams and family back home.
“I’m super grateful for all of them and really excited for the season ahead.”
Brown, who fell short of winning the league’s golden boot on the final day of the season to Ashlie Crofts, was not shy about describing her feelings at losing the race.
“I was gutted, but that’s sport” she said.
“We had a good run, me and Crofts, so it was good to have that in the back of my head, pushing for that as well.
“I’m stoked that we were able to stay so tight all the way along.”
More Football News
St George FC vs Hills United
Backed by a massive showing of fans, Hills United did everything but score in the first half against St George FC, creating a ton of opportunities but unable to score.
St George’s performance in the first half saw the side get “a reality hit” at half-time according to captain Nicole Besz, speaking post-game to The Inner Sanctum.
“I think we just got a reality hit that we weren’t playing our own game. We knew it,” she said.
“We were pretty lucky to go in nil-all at half-time playing like that.
“Coming out, we played our own game and we’ll just have to walk off the field happy with however the result goes if we played our own game.”
The St George faithful who made the trip to Valentine Sports Park would have reason to cheer just two minutes into the second half.
After picking up the ball deep in its defensive half, St George would drive through the middle, which saw Maddison Farmer on the receiving end of a through ball that was missed by the Hills United defence to open the scoring.
St George would double the advantage four minutes later, taking full control of the game in the process after a failed clearance by Hills United saw Jaslyn Moore strike the ball into the back of the net.
Jordan Baker would seal the deal for St George in the 71st minute, with Mary Moyo putting “the cherry on the sundae” as commentator Eric Subijano called it when she scored in the 93rd minute, giving St George a 4-0 victory.
Caitlin Campbell, who was awarded player of the match, described the feeling of winning as “unreal.”
“We were like a long fourth, we weren’t really threatening the top all season.
“But I think a couple of weeks ago we just decided we can win this.
“We really studied UNSW, we looked at Hills, and we kind of looked at their strengths and where we could exploit them, and it really worked for us today.”
In its semi-final victory over UNSW, St George not only had the disadvantage of playing a day after Hills defeated Central Coast Mariners Academy, the side also had to wait 48 hours to finish the game.
There was an injury in second half stoppage time, which forced the game to be delayed until Tuesday night to be finished with the score locked at 1-1, and Campbell would find the winner in extra time of that game.
“It was difficult for someone like me, who’s 32 years old,” Campbell said on having to come back to finish the game on Tuesday night.
“I was struggling tonight, I must have done my hammy or something, so I was like ‘get me off’, but we all recovered really well.
“We put ourselves in the right position to win the game tonight.
“We really didn’t know how it was going to go, but I don’t think we expected 4-0 at all.
“We’re just really happy to get that win tonight.”
Finding a way to break down Sarah Easthope, who kept 15 clean sheets across the league season for Hills United, was seen as a key coming into the game for St George.
“They’ve been the benchmark for probably the last couple of seasons,” Campbell said about Hills United.
“I know they’ve gone through a rebuild, but they’ve got Sarah, who’s the best keeper in our competition. She was last year as well.
“Personally, I went through the games where she did actually concede a goal, and just saw how they came about, and we just had a chat about that throughout the week.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to score against her, and it was really going to have to be something special, so we were really lucky tonight.”