Eric Johannes never thought after leaving the top clubs in Illawarra he would end up winning a state pennant flag with South Coast side Malua Bay.
The former South African national champion guided the zone 7 club to an emotional triumph in the grade 3 finals at Mount Lewis Bowling Club on Monday.
Malua Bay hung on to beat zone 5's Molong 59-55 in a tension-packed decider, with Molong rallying from a 20-shot deficit to almost snatch the flag.
Johannes has won plenty of big events over a distinguished career but rated the grade 3 state flag a highlight.
"It's an awesome achievement," Johannes said.
"I'm really happy for the club who have worked so hard for this. The spirit around the team is fantastic and we came back in so many games that it's great we've won this."
After stints with Warilla, Oak Flats and Corrimal, including being part of Warilla's grade 1 side which reached the state final in 2008, Johannes didn't expect to win his first state flag in grade 3. But after taking up the role as Malua Bay's bowls co-ordinator earlier this year, Johannes was left in no doubt about the club's ambition.
"They told me that, no pressure, but we want you to help us win the state flag. We've been runners-up in 2002, but want to win the flag this year."
Johannes more than did his part, skipping his rink to a 17-shot win in the semi-final against Rydalmere Central (zone 10) and a 10-shot win in the final. Johannes said his club trailed in almost every match over the three-day carnival.
"We were like 15 shots down in each game but halfway through we just seemed to collect ourselves and stormed home. The opposite happened in the final, but we just hung on."
Meanwhile, Tomakin BC made it a great state finals for South Coast zone 7 after winning the grade 4 flag at Ettalong Memorial BC.
Tomakin beat Cabra Vale Diggers (zone 12) 52-49 in a tense final in which Diggers won two of the three rinks. Ethan Tierney beat Tomakin skip Ken Franklin 16-15, and Tomakin's Henry Butler and partners were also beaten by a shot, 17-16, by Mark Short.
Les Vincent and his Tomakin partners won their rink 21-16 against Stephen Smith to give the club an overall win by three shots, after 63 ends.
Tomakin were worthy champions after winning their three sectional matches and beating Barmedman (zone 8) by 11 shots in Sunday's semi-final.
Meanwhile, no Illawarra club made a final. Helensburgh-Scarborough Wombarra were the best performers after making the grade 5 semi-finals.
Warilla were hugely disappointing in the blue-ribbon grade 1, with their campaign over by the end of Saturday's day one at Forrestville RSL. Warilla suffered a shock first-up loss to Kingscliff 53-51 and were knocked out by eventual back-to-back champions Taren Point 69-58 in round two.
Warilla beat Wagga Rules 56-41 in a dead rubber in round three but it was a below-par performance.
"We didn't make the best of starts and it was hard from there," Warilla skip Jeremy Henry said.
"First-up Leif [Selby] went within inches of clinching the win and, in my rink, my partners played terrific but their skip [Chris Turner] made some incredible shots."
Meanwhile, there were near misses and narrow defeats for Illawarra clubs in the lower grade finals. In grade 2, Windang went desperately close to claiming a semi-final spot in Port Macquarie, winning two games, with their only loss by a shot (54-53) to unbeaten section winners Penrith.
Figtree RSL won their first two games in grade 3 at Greenacre, but were beaten 62-43 by Narrabri in the match to decide the semi-final spot.
In grade 4, Wiseman Park won only one of their three sectional games, while in grade 6 at Ballina, Windang won their final game but lost the other two, including the opener by a shot.
Finally, Berkeley enjoyed their time in the grade 7 finals at Engadine BC, winning one game.
Warilla chase perfect start
Warilla Gorillas are looking to put the disappointment of the NSW Pennant Finals behind them by hosting the first rounds of the prestigious Champions League event.
Warilla take on Grandviews on their indoor carpet on Friday (6.30pm) before home games on Saturday against the NSW Women’s team (1pm) and the Australian Defence Force (5pm).
‘‘It’s a chance to get back into it as a club and hopefully play well,’’ Warilla skip Jeremy Henry said on Sunday, before he flew to the Gold Coast for the Golden Nugget Prestige Singles at Tweed Heads BC.
‘‘We made the Champions League semis last year and we’re aiming at least to go a place or two higher this year.
‘‘There’s plenty of top bowlers and we want to make a good start at home over the two days.’’
The tournament runs until late September and features 12 teams including newly crowned NSW Grade 1 pennant champions Taren Point, plus big Sydney clubs Belrose, Cabramatta and Mount Lewis.
Each club has three teams of four who play two nine-end sets with a one-end shootout if sets are a draw.
Each team is allowed two ‘‘marquee’’ players; Warilla naming Engadine’s Matt Miles and Glenbrook youngster Greg Jeans as their ‘‘imports’’.
The Warilla side includes Leif Selby, Geoff McGillivray, Aaron Teys, Ted Clarke and Jared Hamilton.
Friday’s opening round opponent Grandviews includes former Australian star Cameron Curtis, Graeme Archer and Adam Jeffery.
Playing for the NSW Women’s team is Kelsey Cottrell (St Johns Park), Warilla twins Sam and Natalie Noronha and Fairy Meadow’s Dawn Hayman.