ILLAWARRA GRAND FINAL
Avondale erased five years of premiership heartache on Saturday with a breakthrough 41-20 grand final win over arch rivals Tech Waratahs.
The Wombats have folded on the big stage before - in the 2008, '09 and '11 finales - but there was no such trouble on Saturday.
Avondale streaked to a 24-10 half-time lead, before running away with the game on the back of a strong defensive effort.
Tempers flared late in the match when an all-in brawl broke out and numerous players were sent off, but Avondale held their nerve to cap a dominant season.
‘‘It’s finally come and I couldn’t be happier,’’ a jubilant Avondale captain Joe Aiono said afterwards.
‘‘Hats off to all the boys, it was a great performance. I’m over the moon but I’m glad that the season’s over to be honest with you.
‘‘That’s how we played the whole season and that was our aim: trying to consistently play good footy week in, week out.’’
Avondale started sloppy, but they would soon emerge the more dominant team. Finding holes in the Tech Tah’s right-side, the Wombats crossed twice within the opening 20 minutes.
Ryan Lonsdale drew first blood through some clever footwork to score under the posts, before Scott Morgan finished off a left-side link play to add another five points to the tally.
Just when it looked like the Tech Tahs had snuck their way back into the contest - through an earlier conversion and James Bartlett try - Joshua Waine extended Avondale’s lead to 17-10.
An intercept and try from Pauro Collier further bolstered the Wombats’ advantage to 24-10 at half-time.
When the two teams returned Tech Tahs then dominated field possession for what seemed like an eternity, but they weren’t able to breach the brick wall defence.
Against the run of play, the Wombats streaked up field, with captain Joe Aiono crossing in the right hand corner to give his side a 24-point lead.
Avondale continually suffocated the Tah’s misfiring attack, which was also struck down by constant errors.
Andre Itula put the game beyond doubt with his try in the 69th minute, before Wollongong snuck through with two late consolation tries.
Itula was also awarded the Geoff Shaw medal for player of the match
‘‘I was really happy with the way we played all over the park,’’ Aiono said.
‘‘Our main focus this week was our defence. We let a few in but I was pretty happy with the effort the boys put in.
‘‘That last 10 minutes in particular was great.’’
Tech Tahs captain Tim Olsen lamented the loss, but admitted Avondale were the deserving premiers.
‘‘They were too good for us,’’ he said.
‘‘It was a good arm wrestle early but in the end they were just a bit too classy out wide.
‘‘We made a few errors in our own area and they capitalised.
‘‘They’re a class team and they have been all year - they only lost two games out of 20 - so it goes to show.’’