AFTER 23 long years, the coveted SG Ball Cup is finally back in the grasps of the Illawarra Steelers.
The man behind breaking this title drought is Ben Linde, who steered his side to a 34-23 win against Manly-Warringah on Saturday at Bankwest Stadium.
In the high scoring affair, it was the scarlett and white who opened the scoring with two quick tries to Aaron Schoupp and Jayden Sullivan - which made it 10-nil after 15 minutes.
Manly's Josh Schuster crossed in the 21st minute to get his team on the board, before Blake Dowel crossed five minutes later for the Steelers, which made it 18-6.
But the Sea Eagles scored one try either side the break, through Kaeo Weekes (33rd minute) and Sione Fainu (45 minute) to level the scores at 18-all.
Sullivan's second for the Steelers saw them regain the lead 22-18 in the 48th minute before Manly levelled it up once again in the 51st minute when Weekes scored his second of the afternoon.
Manly took their first lead of the match in the 62nd minute when Jamie Lawler landed a field goal, to make it 23-22.
But in true Steelers fashion, the Illawarra boys hit back with two quick tries to Talatau Amone (64th) and Treigh Stewart (69th) to seal the 11-point win - with Sullivan also adding five kicks in the match.
"Ever since we knew we were playing against Manly in the final, we developed a game plan ant got everyone in board from our video session last Monday," Linde, who's squad featured Warilla-Lake South's Blake Dowel, Milton-Ulladulla's Oscar Fitzpatrick, Berry-Shoalhaven Heads' Oliver Parrish and Albion Park-Oak Flats' Joshua Coric, said.
"We wanted to attack their edges early, as they were quite a big side, so we wanted to move their forwards around early, to make them more tired as the game went on - thankfully we executed it perfectly in the early stages, which gave us that lead int he first half.
"Even when Manly hit the front for the first time, we took it as a positive, as they kicked a field goal on the third tackle and we saw it as a sign they didn't think they could score on us, whereas we knew we had plenty of point in us.
"Even when Talatau [Amone] scored and we retook the lead, it still was very nervous, as we only led by five points and a try from them would have put them back in front.
"But when Treigh [Stewart] burst through and scored, we knew we had won it - I just had pure elation like nothing I had ever felt before.
"Being up in the coach's box, I couldn't wait to get down there and celebrate with the boys.
"I have won a couple of competitions as a player but winning one like this as a coach is like nothing I've ever felt before - I think you put in more work as a coach, so there is greater satisfaction."
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While Linde is still on cloud nine with the win, he can't speak highly enough of the group and the way they handled themselves this season.
"Every single player had a role in our group," he said.
"As we had so much talent across the board, it took a while for some of the boys to put their egos aside and get that team first mentality.
"But when they did, you saw the results, as we won our final eight games of the season, including the big dance.
"If they continue to work as hard as I know they are capable of, I'm sure a handful of them will go deep in the Dragons system - there are some future stars there for sure."
Linde will retain five players from the premiership winning squad, with Jackson Shereb, Joshua Coric, Trent Griffiths, Tyrrell Sloan and Pheonix Vetenibua-Finnerty all eligible to play again in 2020.
But before that, Linde's 2019 side have one more game, as they will head north to Redcliffe this Saturday to take on the Tweed Heads under 18s side in the national final.