Group 20 rugby league
THE long wait is over for Tullibigeal-Lake Cargelligo.
It has been 39 years in the making but finally, the Sharks are Group 20 premiers once again after overcoming minor premiers Leeton yesterday in a brutal grand final at EW Moore Oval.
The 26-10 victory was fueled by equal parts grit and glitter, with hard-nosed forwards Brent Pike and Michael Dodson leading the way and inspirational playmaker Jaden Kelly putting the finishing touches on a day Sharks fans will never forget with two second-half tries.
Caretaker captain-coach Pike - a former Leeton premiership skipper - told The Area News he could not adequately put into words what it meant to be a part of TLU's first premiership in four decades.
"It's something you can't explain, how good it feels. It won't really sink in for another few hours, until we get back to Lake," he said.
"We spoke about that for the last two weeks, about the club and the township and how much this trophy would mean to the people of Lake Cargelligo.
"We've got a lot of people on the board who played in the grand final the last time they won it. It's good for a lot of the elder people of the club like Harry Sampson to see the club he's put so much into win another premiership.
"It's all sorts of emotions - 39 years since Lakes won it, my first year at the club, I'm captain-coach ... it's something I'd never have believed at the start of the year but it's a fairy tale.
"Now we'll go back, take this cup back to Lake Cargelligo for the first time in 39 years and celebrate with all our fans and sponsors back home."
Leeton's minor premiership might say the Greens were the most consistent team all year, but the Sharks have shown over the course of the last month they know how exactly to produce the goods in the big games.
Breathing fire at the start of the match, TLU crossed for the first three tries of the match through Pike, Michael Mogliotti and Troy Barby to earn an early 12-0 lead.
But all three conversion attempts were from difficult positions and James Williams - who had an off day with the boot - was unable to convert any of them, leaving the door ajar for a Leeton comeback.
The Greens, still clearly hampered by their bruising preliminary final win over Yenda in searing heat the week before, appeared to rediscover their mojo in the latter stages of the first half - but while Tyler Boller's sensational length-of-the-field try to make it 12-6 might have given them a boost, it was only short-lived.
Three minutes into the second half, Jock Potter touched down under the posts. Greens winger Jeremy Panuccio responded in kind shortly after but even by that stage, there was no turning the tide.
Leeton captain-coach Willie McDonald admitted his side's ball-handling and intensity was not up to scratch.
"It was pretty disappointing. We probably haven't played our best footy in the last three weeks and we let ourselves down with silly mistakes. With a quality side like Lakes if you don't get your completion rate up it makes it very hard," he said.
"Lakes had the momentum over the last month of footy and we just couldn't quite compete. They played the better footy on the day, they wanted it a little bit more. You've got to hand it to them."
It didn't help that as the half progressed, the Greens casualties started piling up - play was halted for a lengthy period in the second half as Clinton Green was stretchered off with a serious groin injury.
McDonald himself soon found himself on the sidelines after his forehead was busted open in a tackle and fullback Sam Eisenhut came off with an ankle injury 10 minutes from time, with Leeton all out of changes.
This, on top of the damage still left from the Yenda game and the absence of Group 20's leading tryscorer Kolo Lomo (ankle), and the cards were clearly stacked against the Greens.
"That's just footy - it's not an excuse, that's how it goes. A bit unlucky on our behalf but you've got to take the good with the bad and move on," McDonald said.
Pike knew the Greens would be up against it physically and said TLU went out with a plan to "bash" them in the first 15 minutes. It paid off.
"Yenda did us a lot of favours - a 90-minute game, in the heat, it's going to take a lot out of any side no matter what you think," he said.
"It did us the world of good to have the week off. We worked a lot in the last two weeks on our line speed and defence and it worked a treat for us.
"There wasn't a bad player out on the field."