GERRINGONG have prepared for their Group 7 sudden death final with a hard fought 36-20 win over Port Kembla at Michael Cronin Oval on Saturday.
The reigning premiers were keen to atone for their upset loss to Albion Park – Oak Flats last weekend, but they were made to work hard for the win by an ever improving Port Kembla side.
The Blacks held a 16-14 lead for a long stretch in the second half and looked hopeful of causing an upset until Gerringong kicked into gear and ran in four tries in quick succession.
As they do more often-than-not on their home ground, it was Gerringong who opened the scoring when Peter Cronin crashed over out wide for 4-0.
The lead wasn’t destined to last long though, a Lions’ error in the ensuing set gave Port Kembla a prime opportunity and they took advantage when Mark Simon sent Justin Lee over to level it at 4-4.
Aided by a penalty, the Blacks then went back-to-back, Simon orchestrating a clever ruck play to send Josh Maude over.
Maude converted his own try for a 10-4 Port lead.
Again the lead was short lived as Gerringong made a swift reply and shift of the ball to the right sent Elliot Stewart over.
Joel Roberts knocked over the sideline conversion to again level the scores.
The Lions then clawed back the lead, Isaac Russell and Simon Hoare combined to send Stewart over for his second and 14-10 Gerringong lead at half time.
It looked like the Lions would extend their lead in their first possession of the second half when Corey Mulhall broke free, but the centre went to ground despite having an unmarked Stewart on his outside.
Despite being early in the half, the blown try proved to be a turning point, as Port Kembla went on to dominate possession.
Three straight sets on the Lions line proved to be too much for the home-side and substitute Christian Kupenga found his way over for the Blacks.
Maude’s conversion gave the visitors the lead at 16-14.
With it their last game of their season, the Blacks were looking to go out in the winner’s circle and did all they could to protect the slim lead.
They did so until some quick thinking by Russell brought them undone, the five-eighth’s quick tap put Gerringong on the attack and they capitalised when Nathan Ford darted over from dummy-half.
Roberts’ conversion gave Gerringong the lead at 20-16.
Buoyed by Ford’s try the home side took control of the game.
Stewart looked like he might get his third, but the Port cover defence forced the winger to put boot to ball and a flying Roberts managed to ground it just before the dead ball line.
The stand-in captain converted his own try for to push the lead out to 10.
Roberts then produced some individual brilliance to extend the lead again, the full-back taking no notice of the muddy conditions as he scooped up a Port Kembla kick on the run and set off up-filed before linking up with Russell to send the five-eighth streaking away to score.
Roberts’ conversion made it 32-16.
With five minutes remaining Gerringong then put the game to bed when a decision to run the ball on the fifth allowed Ford to grab his second.
A short kick-off by the visitors saw them regain possession and Sifa Hala grabbed a consolation try to round out the score at 36-20.
Roberts, Ford and Adam Moore were Gerringong’s best, while Simon, Maude and Kaine Edwards were strong for the Blacks.