THE Group Seven finals race has become even tighter, following Gerringong’s 16-10 win over Warilla-Lake South at Cec Glenholmes Oval on Sunday.
The Lions’ win means they now sit on 16 competition points along with Shellharbour and Warilla, with Kiama leading the way on 18 points.
Like most encounters between the two sides in recent years, Sunday’s affair was a tough one as the Lions fought back from a half-time deficit before producing a determined defensive display at the back end of the game to consign the Gorillas to their second straight defeat.
Both sides came out the blocks determined to move the ball despite the blustery conditions, however it was defence that dominated opening stages as neither side wanted to concede the opening try.
With almost a quarter of an hour gone, it was the Lions who finally found a way through when skipper Nathan Ford sliced through the Gorillas’ defence.
Ford found the trailing Brad Davidson in support and the pivot crossed under the posts.
Jake Taylor knocked over the conversion to put the Lions up 6-nil.
The Gorillas would soon hit back though and trimmed the lead through winger Kye Deane.
Second-phase play following a Gerringong error put the Gorillas on the front foot and Blair Grant threaded a grubber in to the in-goal and Deane won the race to the ball to bring the score to 6-4.
It was the Gorillas who were again next to trouble the scorers, this time thanks to Grant’s boot as he added a penalty goal to level the scores with just over 10 minutes before the break.
The home side then looked like they would take the lead when another grubber from Grant ended up in the ingoal, but a knock-on in the lead up cut the Gorilla’s celebrations short.
There was no denying their next scoring chance though as fullback Jordan Harty finally put Warilla in front.
A determined charge by Andrew Diomei had Gerringong on the back foot and the Warilla prop found Harty in support who raced away to score in the corner.
Grant couldn’t knock over the tough conversion and the Gorillas took a 10-6 lead into half-time.
Despite taking the ascendancy into the break, it was the Lions who came out full of running in the second stanza and they soon clawed their way back into the lead.
Again it was Ford who got the visitors back into the game, as the Gerringong hooker darted out of dummy-half and carried a number of defenders over the line for a well-deserved try.
Taylor knocked over the conversion and the Lions were ahead 12-10 with half an hour remaining.
The visitors then wasted no time in extending that lead, as they crossed again in the ensuing set.
Ewen McCarroll and Ford got the Lions on the front foot with some quick work out of dummy-half and Rixon Russell then cut through the defence.
The Gerringong half found Joel Roberts in support who then got the ball onto Toby Gumley-Quine who dived over in the corner.
Taylor couldn’t add the extras from out wide and the Lions took a 16-10 lead.
While there would be no points scored, the final 25 minutes was still a thrilling affair.
Following Gumley-Quine’s try, possession swung to the Gorillas and they found themselves attacking the Lions line time and time again.
On numerous occasions, it looked like the Gorillas would find their way back into the game, but a combination of committed defence or a wayward last passes meant the Lions kept the home side at bay.
For the Lions it was a different story as they seemingly struggled to find any attacking fluency in the dying stages, perhaps as a result of their defensive efforts or their re-jigged spine after Davidson didn’t return in the second half.
As the game down to the wire, the Gorillas looked like they might jag an equaliser.
Jake Davison went agonisingly close and a half-break by Blake Dowel had the Gorillas’ supporters on their feet, but the Lions again found a way to hold on.
In a physical and entreating affair, Ford, Kal Collins and Taylor had fine games for the Lions. For the Gorillas, Diomei, Hartyu and Aaron Henry did all they could.