Pre-season prediction: Third
Position: Third (11 wins, 4 losses, 1 draw, +298 points differential). Won grand final.
In short: While far from a dominant force in the regular season – not to the extent Leeton or West Wyalong were, anyway – Lakes United turned it on in the finals and couldn’t be caught. Hard to find anyone who would begrudge the Sharks their first Group 20 title in four decades.
What went right: The Sharks’ last six weeks of football couldn’t have gone any better. Undefeated after their second round bye, TLU had the perfect lead-in with easy wins over Hay and the Black and Whites, before flicking the switch and toppling West Wyalong, Yenda and Leeton – three teams arguably more favoured at the time to go all the way than they were – on their march to glory.
What went wrong: Not a great deal, if anything. Their four losses for the season became inconsequential the moment the final whistle sounded on grand final day.
Best win: Lakes saved their best for last, outclassing a gallant but exhausted Leeton Greens outfit 26-10 in the grand final. All the big guns – Pike, Kelly, Dodson, Judd and the rest – were on song on an historic day for the one-time Group 20 strugglers.
Worst loss: Serious question marks were raised over TLU’s true premiership credentials in round 11, following a 36-22 loss to arch-nemesis West Wyalong – their second loss to the Mallee Men for the season. Fortunately it turned out there was nothing to worry about, but if there was a premiership betting market open at the time, the Sharkies would have blown out.
Best player: Brent Pike was supposed to retire at the end of last season. Thankfully for TLU, he didn’t. Following the circumstances surrounding Jaden Kelly and his son, the Sharks needed a temporary captain-coach – and Pike more than fitted the bill, not only leading the way off the field, but showing how it’s done on it, as well.
Leading tryscorer: There were two, both tied on 17 – Pike, who also barged over for the opening try of the grand final, and Alex Ronayne, who this season established himself as one of the most damaging wide players in Group 20.
Moving forward: Lakes United can go back-to-back. Brent Pike has signalled his intention to play on and if he’s there alongside the likes of Kelly and Dodson, they’ll be hard to beat. Early noises suggest the Sharks could be raided by a few who want their former juniors back, though.
Grade: A. Winners are grinners, and they’ll be smiling out at Lake Cargelligo for a long while yet.