THE Shellharbour Sharks have ended 17 years of Group Seven heartache, after they defeated the Kiama Knights 32-22 in the 2018 first grade grand final at Collegians Sporting Complex on Sunday.
The minor premiers opened the match’s scoring in fourth minute when Sam Clune put centre Wayde Aitken into space – with the latter then drawing Kiama’s Tom Atkins and sending his winger Jye Brooker over to score in the right corner.
Sharks skipper Matt Carroll hooked his conversion, as they led 4-nil.
Five minutes later, Brooker had a double, acrobatically scoring in the right corner after being put into space by the elusive Jason Gray.
Carroll learnt from his earlier miss, landing his second conversion from exactly the same spot – as the Sharks led 10-nil.
It was all one way traffic in the first half, when the Sharks had their third in the 24th minute – Carroll’s cross field bomb was allowed to bounce by Atkins and centre Aitken won the race to the ball to score.
Carroll again hooked his kick from the right sideline, as the Sharks led 14-nil.
The lead grew even further in the 28th minute, when Carroll stepped his way through the defensive line and dived over.
The half converted his own try, to make it 20-nil.
But the Sharks didn’t have it all their own way in the first half, as Atkins slid through to score the Knights first in the 32nd minute.
Cameron Vazzoler converted from out wide, which reduced the margin to 14.
Kiama pushed hard for a second try in the dying moments on the first half before a Carroll field goal attempt sailed to the left of the sticks.
In the final play of the half, Clune dummied his way through and scored under the sticks.
With Carroll’s conversion, the Sharks led 26-6 at half-time.
Knowing they needed to score first, Kiama came out the more determined, leading to them scoring their second try.
Half Vazzoler grubbered the ball through and team mate Toby Nobes picked it up and scored.
Vazzoler nailed his second straight conversion, to reduce the margin to 26-12 with 32 minutes to play.
The match was sealed for the Sharks with 13 to play, when Carroll scored his second.
Matt Morris knocked-on a ball coming out of his own end, which was toed through by Carroll – with the half winning the race to the ball to score.
The captain converted his own try, to make it 32-12.
With five minutes to play, Knights skipper Kieran Poole scored a well-deserved consolation try – which Vazzoler converted to make it 32-18.
In the final play of the game, Kiama’s centre Ethan Ford scored to make it 32-22 at full-time – seeing the Sharks win the Artie Smith Trophy for the first time since 2001.
In the win, man of the match Matt Carroll, Sam Clune, Harold Snell and Jason Gray all starred for the Sharks, while Daniel Martin, Luke Sutton, Cameron Whittaker and Kieran Poole tried their guts out for the Knights – who suffered their second straight grand final defeat.
This match also created history on Sunday, as Karra-Lee Nolan became the first ever female to referee a Country Rugby League first grade grand final.