Northampton Wanderers won their second consecutive Premiership Rugby A League title with a hard-earned victory over Exeter Braves.
James Grayson paved the way with 16 points coming from his boot, and three tries from Wandies' Jamal Ford-Robinson, Paddy Ryan and Lewis Ludlam were enough to down the Devon side in a close encounter, earning Northampton their second title in as many years.
A huge ball-carrying performance from Exeter looked ominous for the hosts, but ill-discipline cost Braves in the closing stages and Northampton capitalised in a memorable night in front of almost 3,500 people at the Gardens.
The Wanderers were quick to get on the scoreboard, as Exeter gave away a third-minute penalty which Grayson cooly slotted through the sticks to give the home side an early lead.
The Braves were quick to react however, gaining 15 metres from their own line out, only for the ball to be held up when some superb Wanderers defending got them out of trouble.
Exeter refused to let up their attacking efforts though and it paid off after multiple phases from the Braves wore the Wandies down, before Moray Low bundled the ball across the whitewash, to take the lead for his side.
Tuitavake had the Gardens in raptures with a fine run down the left wing, beating two defenders, but the touch judge deemed the winger to have gone out of play; Northampton conceded a penalty in the scrum soon after.
But Lewis Ludlam scored the first try of the night for Northampton, as a wonderful attacking move and a fine run by Jamal Ford-Robinson stunned Exeter’s back line, with Ludlam dotting down by the corner flag, taking his side ahead by a solitary point.
The Braves responded just three minutes later with their second score of the game, Tom Lawday side-stepping two Wanderers in a 20-metre dash to slide under the posts to complete a phenomenal solo effort.
15 points had been scored in just five minutes following a second penalty kick for the Wandies, with end-to-end action entertaining the crowd, but both sides were desperately looking for another try on the approach to half-time.
Grayson however notched a third penalty over from 40 metres to bring the scores level, with the teams heading down the tunnel with the scores poised at 14-14.
Exeter started the second half in fine fashion, scoring their third try with another bundled move over the line, this time scored by Matt Kvesic, to give the away side a 21-14 with just over half an hour to play.
That lead didn’t last long though, as Ford-Robinson scored to level the game moments later, with a big heave in the maul enough to work the ball past the line and bring the game even again.
The Braves were in trouble as Tom Stephenson and Tuitavake both made great runs deep into Exeter territory, but a knock-on halted the Wanderers’ attempts to score a crucial third try.
As the game entered its final quarter, Grayson’s superb kick to the corner and a brilliant maul by the forwards set up Paddy Ryan for the Wandies' third try to send them seven points clear of the Braves and just 15 minutes from a second consecutive A League title.
And after a relentless ten minute window neither side could find another try, but the Braves gave away a penalty in the middle of the park which Grayson calmly converted to extend Northampton's advantage.
Exeter pushed for the line once more, but with over 20 phases failing to break through and close the gap, time was running out for the visitors.
Wanderers had one last scrum to defend in their 22, and with a huge shove they forced a dramatic penalty at the Braves' expense, with Grayson gleefully sending the ball into touch to allow skipper Tom Stephenson to lift the A League trophy in front of a massive Franklin's Gardens crowd.
WANDIES: Collins; Tuitavake, Dingwall, Stephenson (capt), Pisi; Grayson, Mitchell; Van Wyk, Clare, Ford-Robinson, Onojaife, Moon, Ludlam, Ryan, Nutley
Replacements: Fish, Beesley, Painter, Trinder, Allman, Emery, Strachan, Elliott
BRAVES: Bodilly; O’Flaherty, Campagnaro, Hendrickson, Short; Morley, Chudley; Keast, Malton, Low, Salmon, Lonsdale, Freeman (capt), Kvesic, Lawday
Replacements: Innard, Kenny, Southworth, Van Der Sluys, Caulfield, Snow, Skinner, Strong
3’ WANDIES Penalty Grayson 3-0
14’ BRAVES Try Low, Conversion Morley 3-7
25’ WANDIES Try Ludlam 8-7
28’ BRAVES Try Lawday, Conversion Morley 8-14
30’ WANDIES Penalty Grayson 11-14
40’ WANDIES Penalty Grayson 14-14
HALF-TIME: Wandies 14-14 Braves
47’ BRAVES Try Kvesic Conversion Morley 14-21
51’ WANDIES Try Ford-Robinson Conversion Grayson 21-21
52’ WANDIES Try Ryan Conversion Grayson 28-21
72’ WANDIES Penalty Grayson 31-21
FULL-TIME: Wandies 31-21 Braves