THE Gerringong Lions claimed their record 20th Group Seven Rugby League premiership on Saturday, by defeating the Warilla-Lake South Gorillas 20-6 in the first grade grand final.
At a wet Centenary Field, which marked the first time since 1965 a Group Seven decider had been played on a Saturday (which the Lions coincidentally won 14-9 against Albion Park-Oak Flats), points proved hard to come by for both sides.
It took until the seventh minute for the first chance to present itself when Tyran Wishart grubbered a dangerous ball into the in-goal, before the Steeden beat chasers Kayne Brennan and Matt Winchester to the dead-ball line - with the latter coming off second best in a collision with Jamie Burns.
Six minutes later, the Lions again went close but centre Hamish Holland was adjudged to step out before grounding the ball in the right corner by the desperate Gorillas defence.
That resolute defence for the young Gorillas, who had an average age of 21 years in their squad, held firm for the next five minutes, including a sharp intercept by Blair Grant.
But the Lions finally broke through in the 20th minute when Ford caught his opponents napping and put fullback Winchester over under the sticks.
Back-rower Jake Taylor converted and Michael Cronin's men led 6-nil at the drinks break.
Soon after that break, Winchester again went down holding his right knee, forcing him from the field - seeing Denver Ford shift to fullback and Ben Grant enter the play on the field.
It was then the Gorillas time to park themselves deep inside enemy territory, with five straight sets leading to their opener in the 30th minute.
Star playmaker Grant took the ball courageously to the line before putting through a deft grubber, which bounced up perfectly for the chasing Chad Lisch - seeing the only two remaining Gorillas from their 2016 grand final loss combine.
The former converted and it was 6-all after 31 minutes.
This four-pointer galvanised the Gorillas, as they went close on countless occasions to pocking their noses in front but the Lions' defence held firm.
This resilient defence by the Lions was rewarded in the final minutes before half-time when Kayne Brennan charge onto an inside pass from Rixon Russell.
Despite the best efforts of Blake Dowel, Lisch and Jake Goody, the centre powered over against his former side.
Taylor's conversion from five metres to the left of the uprights made it 12-6 at the break.
After the resumption, poor handling and discipline by the Gorillas allowed the boot of Taylor to extend the Lions' advantage to eight with 32 minutes to play.
Not long after, Winchester, with his right knee heavily strapped, returned to the field for the Lions - minutes after hooker Sam Hooper was forced from the field for the Gorillas.
In the 51st minute, a fortuitous bounce off a Jake Brisbane kick ended in the hands of Liam Vane-Tempest but a ball and all tackle by his opposite number Denver Ford put an end to that attacking opportunity.
This saw the game, despite the increasing rain, step up a notch, as the Gorillas chased points, with Justin Jones, Dowel and Tyrone Roberts going agonisingly close on three different occasions.
It then appeared the Gorillas had reduced the lead when Rosewarn stripped Wishart one-on-one close to the line but referee William Drury adjudged the former to not be square at marker and called a penalty - a count which Warilla lost 12-4 on the day.
Minutes later, after the final drinks break, the Lions extended their lead to 10 by another penalty goal by Taylor.
The @GerringongLions celebrate their 20-6 Group Seven Rugby League grand final win against the Warilla-Lake South Gorillas with their team song.— Courtney Rhys Ward (@CortRhysWard) October 24, 2020
The Lions have now won a record 20 first grade titles - including three in the past six seasons. @NSWRL@mercury_sports@SCRegisterpic.twitter.com/vkOmQ93TMG
Not happy with that lead, the Lions continued to push for more points.
It appeared they had their third try through Rixon Russell, following a break and offload by Corey Mulhall, but Blair Grant chased back and held up his opposite number up over the line.
The very next set, the Gorillas tried their hand, with Brisbane regathering a chip and chase before putting Roberts into space down the left edge but the latter's kick back in ran dead before the chasers could get to the ball.
The match was sealed in the 68th minute when the Lions finally crossed for their third.
The courageous Winchester dummied and then offloaded to a charging Kal Collins, who then floated a ball out to Wishart to score.
Taylor failed with his conversion attempt, as it was 20-6 - which is how it remained until full-time, securing Cronin, Nathan Ford, Rixon Russell and Tim Moore their fifth premiership for the Lions.
In the first grand final played at a Group Seven venue since 2013, Corey Mulhall was named man of the match, while Brennan, Hamish Holland and Nathan and Denver Ford also had standout performances.
In the 14-point defeat, Blair Grant was easily the Gorillas' best, with Duke Grant, Dowel, Brisbane and Rosewarn never giving up.