Eagles win back Group Seven title

Albion Park-Oak Flats have reclaimed the Group Seven throne, holding off Warilla's late fightback to win yesterday's grand final 25-22 at Centenary Field.Capturing their seventh premiership in the past 12 seasons, the Eagles fulfilled their off-season vow to each other to atone for last year's embarrassing failure to qualify for the finals series.

  • SLIDESHOW: The weekend's grand final action "It was a long year last year," Eagles five-eighth and grand final man of the match Wade Walsh said."It's good to be back up there."The loss ended a forgettable day for Warilla, with the club's first, second and third grade sides all coming up short on grand final day.Gorillas coach Peter Hooper desperately wanted success for his young side and was close to tears after the game."I'm shattered for them, just gutted," Hooper said."The amount of effort they put in this year, a premiership would've been a great reward."The Eagles and Gorillas finished locked on 32 points at the end of the regular season, with Warilla clinching the minor premiership on their better for-and-against record.But they had split two meetings during the season before the Eagles conquered their arch rivals 26-10 in the major semi-final.The home side started well yesterday, tries to centre Aaron Lucas and fullback Danny Sartori providing a 10-0 lead.Warilla confidently replied with back-to-back tries to Aaron Henry and Tyson Brown, with Chris Henry converting both for a 12-10 lead.The Gorillas were attacking down the left side minutes later when Chris Henry's pass was intercepted by Eagles halfback Matt Carroll, who quickly passed to centre Matt Leabeater for a runaway try and a 14-12 half-time lead.Albion Park kept the upper hand with prop Derek Gray's try early in the second half and were well in control when winger Matt Stone scored to make it 24-12.A Carroll field goal seemed to put the result beyond doubt, but the gallant Gorillas rallied one more time.Giant winger Liam Watson scored out wide and Chris Henry's conversion trimmed the deficit to 25-18.Then Henry went over himself with two minutes remaining but his rushed conversion attempt was off target.Warilla made one final line break in the dying seconds, but the desperate Eagles' defence buried any chance of a freakish try on the bell."We expected it to be close," Albion Park captain-coach Jade Lucas said. "It was a typical grand final between Albion Park and Warilla. It just showed today, two quality teams both hungry to win it, and it came down to the last 15 seconds of the game."It's just a great feeling. It's been a real long year and all the sacrifices you make are worth it."We had a bad year last year and it showed a lot of character to bounce back and win a premiership a year later."Lucas spared a thought for his mate and coaching rival."Peter Hooper had them going really well and they showed they're a really good side," he said."They bounced back from the major semi and really put it to us today, and we did the hard work to get our points up and we got the win."While Walsh was worthy of man-of-the-match honours, Sartori and second-rower Jason Hooper must have been a close second.Hooper was particularly instrumental, chalking up several important hit-ups and tackles.The Eagles could lose up to five players through retirement, but the Gorillas have youth on their side and will relish the challenge of knocking the Eagles from their lofty perch in 2010."We'll try and keep everyone together," Peter Hooper said."I'm just so proud of the effort. We were down 10-0 and then 25-12, and everyone's going 'It's gone', but not once did I doubt we had the character to come back."Hooper said he had no problem with Henry's intercepted pass, the game's biggest turning point."Chris Henry was outstanding for us today, so I'd hate for anyone to think that intercept pass had anything to do with the result," he said."If that pass goes the other way, we score and we're going to get the trophy right now."The game was watched by about 3000 spectators and broadcast live by 2GB's continuous call team.

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