Alexander Weir crashed over for a try in the dying minutes to secure Gerringong Lions a hard-fought 12-10 grand final victory over the Shellharbour Sharks at Centenary Field on Sunday.
The Sharks led the Group Seven decider 10-6 before the Lions prop picked up a kick through to dive over for the match-winning try in the 77th minute.
All points in the grand final came in the second half, with the solid defence highlighting the scoreless opening 40 minutes
It was a dour first half, with players from both sides struggling in the heat.
It was such a hot day that a drinks break was taken midway through the first half and then again at the same stage of the second period.
Defence was definitely king in the opening 40 minutes, with both teams excelling in this facet of the game.
The Sharks especially had to call on their renowned defence in the opening stanza, at one stage having to defend three successive attacking sets from Gerringong.
But neither team really looked like scoring until the final play of the first half when Lions centre Toby Gumley-Quin burst through and was tackled a metre short of the line.
The game burst into life in the second half when Hamish Holland crossed for a try for Gerringong after a lovely ball from Taj Ford.
There were calls for the referee to award a potential eight-point try after Holland was hit late by Isaac Morris but the Sharks halfback was only placed on report for the late shot.
Ben Grant converted the try but the Lions 6-0 lead was short- lived as Morris converted a Braxton Wallace try for the Sharks to level the scores at 6-6 with 20 minutes still to play.
Morris was at it again in the 69th minute when he finished off a smart Shellharbour move to score out wide.
He missed the conversion but the Sharks led 10-6 with 10 minutes to go.
Though that's when the Lions' big-game experience and fitness started to tell and it was the Scott Stewart-coached side who made most of the running late on, scoring the match-winner three minutes from time.
Lions centre Hamish Holland, who scored a try and was a constant threat in attack and defended solidly all game, was named player-of-the-match.
Inspirational Lions captain Nathan Ford, who made a number of key plays, including when he caught a kick-through on the full and ran almost 60 metres downfield before being caught by the defence, was ecstatic with his team's performance.
"I thought our fitness would get them in the end. We got a lot of young blokes that have played a lot of footy this year. And on the back of our speed, I thought we'd get them on the back end and I think that's what probably got them in the end," Ford said.
"It was tough out there. To get home with the boys and win number six in my career and Rick's [Rixon Russell] career, really means a lot."
Many doubted Gerringong that they could go one better than last year's grand final showing but Ford said everyone at the Lions were confident they had the tools to win this year's premiership.
"I think the spirit the boys show is unbelievable. We're all just local boys playing for the club. We're not looking for money. We're not looking for any easy way out.
"I think that's what gets us home every year.
"A lot of people say things about us and we show up every year.
"To have three sides in the grand final and have two of our sides win means a lot for this proud club."
Shellharbour Sharks skipper James Ralphs was disappointed to come so close but fail at the last hurdle but praised his team's resilience throughout the season.
"We turn up for each other all the time. Today we fell just short, it came down to the last five minutes and the bounce of the ball. It's hard to take now, congratulations to Gerringong. They were a bit better than us today but I'm hoping we can learn from this and be back bigger and stronger next year," Ralphs said.
In the other grand finals on Sunday, Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs defated Stingrays of Shellharbour 16-4 in the Open Women's Tackle, Gerringong Lions 12 defeated Kiama Knights 10 in the reserve grade and Warilla-Lake South Gorillas downed the Lions 24-20 in the under 18s decider.
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