AGONY – that’s the emotion Warilla-Lake South felt after being defeated by Gerringong 21-20 in a classic VB South Coast Group 7 Rugby League grand final at Centenary Field on yesterday.
A pressure field goal from Gerringong five-eighth Pat Cronin with less than three minutes left was the killer blow that gave the Lions this year’s title, their first since 1994.
The come-from-behind win put the exclamation point on a startling return to prominence from the Lions, who finished seventh last year.
Conversely, it was heartbreak again for the Gorillas, who suffered a three-point loss in last season’s decider.
The Lions trailed 20-14 with six minutes remaining before the Cronin brothers – Pat and Peter – combined pull off a remarkable premiership victory.
Warilla looked firmly in control in the early stages, especially when winger Dean Tungai crossed for a converted try in just the fifth minute.
Gerringong reduced the buffer to two points shortly after when Jason White powered his way across the stripe.
The ascendancy for the remainder of the first 40 minutes was with the Lions, the Gorillas appearing a little flat and uninspired.
Gerringong centre Peter Cronin stormed on to a slick pass from Nathan Ford to put them ahead 10-6 at the break.
It was his brother’s turn to weave some magic five minutes following the resumption, the patented “Show ‘n’ Cro” creating the opportunity for Joel Roberts to score and extend the lead to 14-6.
A Chris Henry penalty goal kept the Gorillas within a converted try of their opponents.
Warilla’s inspirational skipper Linken Hutchinson reignited his side, scoring two sensational individual tries to put his side ahead 20-14 after an hour’s play.
The Gorillas appeared to be in control of the contest, but back-to-back-penalties for stripping the ball gave Gerringong a sniff and Peter Cronin crossed out wide.
Joel Roberts kicked the critical sideline conversion to level the scores.
A minute later, despite the oncoming Warilla defence swarming all over him, Cronin slotted the penalty goal to conclude a gutsy win that has typified the Lions’ 2010 campaign.
Pat Cronin’s clutch play also helped him win the man of the match.
Lions coach Mick Cronin praised his side’s determined spirit to not lose a match after being thrashed 66-4 by Albion Park-Oak Flats in the first half of the season.
“Credit to them, they never turned their toes up and haven’t lost for 13 weeks,” he said. “That’s what you play the game for, to win grand finals.”
His son Pat said he thought the field goal looked “pretty straight” off the boot.
“I was hoping there was only a minute left when I kicked it,” he laughed.
“I’m just stoked, the young blokes, the Jarretts, everyone has been awesome this year.”
Gerringong 21 (Peter Cronin 2, Joel Roberts, Jason White tries, Joel Robert 2 goals, Pat Cronin field goal) d Warilla-Lake South (Linken Hutchinson 2, Dean Tungai tries, Chris Henry 4 goals).