THE last time Warilla-Lake South won the Group Seven Rugby League premiership, their side was spearheaded by a 97kg forward by the name of Alex Volkanovski.
That grand final victory in 2011 against Gerringong (36-6) proved to be Volkanovski's last game of rugby league, before deciding to concentrate on his Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] career.
"You always remember grand finals and we were unlucky with two of them but I finished on a high against Gerringong," Volkanovski, who won the Michael Cronin Medal in 2010, said.
"I got man of the match that day and scored a 40-metre try.
"I can still remember breaking the line and thinking these little legs couldn't get me all the way to the try, so I was looking around for someone to pass to.
"I was panicking looking for someone to pass to and then just looked up, saw the try-line and did everything I could to get there, which I thankfully did.
"I had a smile from ear to ear that day and it was a perfect way to end my time as a Gorilla, as that was the year I made the big decision to pursue mixed martial arts full-time.
"Although the match ended that period of my career, I will always have the Gorillas in my heart."
While that decision proved a masterstroke for the Windang product, who has now claimed two UFC featherweight titles, Volkanovski hopes his Cec Glenholmes Oval-based club can replicate the Gorillas' performance in 2011 on Saturday and end a nine-year title drought.
"I've been keeping tabs on how they've been going all year - they're a young team and deserve their shot at the title," said Volkanovski - who will most likely face Brian Ortega in early 2021.
"If they all turn up on the day, which I'm confident they will, they're going to be very hard to beat.
"There's plenty of talent in there and I'm really looking forward to watching the match - it's about time the Gorillas got another premiership in their hands."
One man that was happy to go to war against Volkanoski on the field and not the octagon was Gerringong enforcer Tim Moore, who played in grand finals against the UFC champion in 2010 and 2011.
"There's no doubt our rivalry with Warilla is one of the strongest in Group Seven, especially when you include all the grand finals," Moore said.
"Our first crack in the grand final in 2010 was a really special day - I can still remember Pat Cronin kicking that field goal.
"Then the next year, Warilla got the better of us that day, with Volko being exceptional in their win.
"You know you're always in for a tough game a footy anytime you step onto the field against Warilla, especially when Volko was lining up in the opposite front-row."
Another Lion who has been present for those four Gerringong and Warilla grand finals over the past decade is Lions coach Michael Cronin.
"To be able to stay close to the top for so many years is a testament to both clubs - it's nearly become a habit that every time we are in a grand final, so is Warilla," Cronin, who played 216 games for Parramatta, said.
"That 2010 premiership broke a drought for the club [16 years] - it's always great to see great servants to the club win a competition after so many years.
"I actually took over the year before and Warilla put close to 70 points on us one day but we were lucky some of our younger guys continued to improve and a number of experienced players returned for the 2010 season.
"Making that 2010 title even more special was doing it alongside my two sons [Pete and Pat] - grand final days are always special but that one is right up there.
"The Gorillas gave us a hiding in 2011 and we were completely outplayed on the day.
"Then in 2013, we were behind by one point with 10 seconds to go before Brad Davidson slotted a field-goal to force a draw.
"He [Davidson] then kicked another in extra-time to win it - in games like that, you've got to think there's a bit of luck on your side.
"2016 was a very wet affair but in my eyes, to keep them scoreless was one of our best ever efforts I've been involved in."
This Saturday at Centenary Field, the two proud clubs will add to that rivalry, with their fifth grand final showdown in 11 years.
"This year's side is a little different to the ones we've all come to know," Cronin, who coached at the club from 1987-1989 before returning in 2009 after a stint with Parramatta, said.
"When we played them during the season, we were lucky to beat them - I've said all along they were the side with the most improvement in them and now look how far they've come.
"You play all year to reach the grand final and our build-up, regardless if we've had the week off or not, hasn't changed - it's all about getting the players prepared best for when they step on the field.
"Everyone that played two weeks ago is fit and ready to go, so we will have no excuses come Saturday."
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