The Illawarra Rugby Union trophy has returned to Bowral after the Blacks’ upset victory over Avondale in Saturday’s grand final.
The 34-18 win marks Bowral’s first Illawarra premiership since 1999 and comes just a few years after the club nearly folded.
The victory came on a fruitful day for the club, with second grade winning their second-straight premiership.
The first grade side has improved remarkably since Gene Fairbanks took over as coach in 2016 and he said it’s a reward for all the hard work the team has put in.
“It’s unbelievable,” Fairbanks said. “I knew we could push them, but they just played phenomenally as a group, I’m so proud of them.
“The team has grown quite a lot, we’ve had some phenomenal people around and that’s a credit to all the coaches.
“Greg Mumm with me this year, Ben Hindmarsh and Peter Burt in second grade, Tim Miller, all the guys who’ve been there. And our president [Mark Freund] who kept the club alive for a long time. Many hands make light work.”
The Blacks were relentless in defence, with a 20-minute period at the beginning of the second half proving decisive.
With scores locked at 13-all at the break, Avondale started the second half on top. However Bowral held firm in defence, holding out wave after wave of Avondale attack.
The Wombats cause was made harder when fullback Silipa Tuigamala was sent to the sin bin in the 46th minute.
Despite having to defend through much of that period, Bowral ultimately made their opponents pay nine minutes later when Christian Vainerere set up an Erin Blackshaw try to hand Bowral a lead they would not relinquish.
With Avondale’s big forwards likely to run out of puff in hot conditions, Fairbanks was confident his team could finish over the top if they could hold firm through the opening exchanges of the second half.
“I felt pretty confident at half-time. I saw their legs were starting to tire and they weren’t throwing too much at us attack-wise, other than just big bodies running and I knew we could handle that.
“They scored right before half-time, so we knew we had to defend well in that part of the game after half-time and we did. We just kept tackling and tackling.”
Avondale had their chances to hit back, but as the Bowral pressure grew in defence, the errors mounted.
With the lead and the wind behind their backs, Bowral played the territorial game. Five-eighth Lachlan Huntington pinned the Wombats deep inside their own half with a superb tactical kicking performance.
Avondale’s coach Murray McDonald conceded his team simply made too many errors to defend their 2017 title.
“They were better on the day,” McDonald said. “We made too many errors, too many missed tackles. We had a few opportunities where we made breaks but didn’t go all the way.”
The fitter of the two sides, Bowral were relentless, with a Henry Yuill try in the final play of the game securing a famous victory.