THE Gerringong Lions remain unbeaten and at the top of the Group Seven ladder after five games following a hard-fought 22-18 over the Warilla Lake South Gorillas at Cec Glenholmes Oval on Sunday.
The Lions battled back from being down 14-nil at half-time to take the win and set up a top of the table clash against the second-placed Jamberoo Superoos next weekend, who are riding a four-game win streak.
The win may have come at a cost for the Lions after they were forced to play with 15 men for the vast majority of the match after losing key forwards Nathan Ford and Judd Collyer to injury in the opening stages.
For the Gorillas, the match was one that got away, as their half-time lead fell away in the third quarter before playing the final 15 minutes with 12 men after centre Jake Kinzett was given his marching orders by referee Bailey Warren.
It was a dream start for the home side who grabbed the opening try in the first 10 minutes.
Some slick hands from hooker Sam Hooper and half Blair Grant caught the Lions' defence out on their line and fullback Justin Jones crashed over behind the ruck.
Five-eighth Jake Brisbane converted for 6-nil lead.
They were made to work for it but the @GerringongLions improved to 5-0 to start the 2020 Group Seven Rugby League season after fighting back to defeat the Warilla-Lake South Gorillas 22-18 at Cec Glenholmes Oval. Coach Michael Cronin discusses the win. @NSWRL@mercury_sportspic.twitter.com/vcxQGBbaIT— Courtney Rhys Ward (@CortRhysWard) August 30, 2020
That lead was soon doubled and it was Jones again who bought the visitors undone.
Warilla moved the ball up-field with ease before the fullback chimed in to regather his own grubber and touch down under the posts.
Brisbane added the conversion for 12-nil lead after as many minutes.
Behind early, the Lions seemed perhaps a little too desperate for points during the first half and cruelled a number of chances with some poor handling.
The Gorillas, on the other hand, seemed more composed, however, the Lions' defence picked up and kept the Gorillas at bay.
With almost 25 minutes gone, the Gorillas did add to their lead thanks to a penalty goal from close range by Brisbane to push the score to 14-nil.
While the Lions' defence improved, they still had issues with the ball in hand and couldn't find a way to peg back the home side before the break.
That did change almost immediately after half-time as an early error by Warilla put Gerringong on the attack.
Beau Doosey, the third Lion to play hooker on the day, found Alexander Weir close to the line and the rangy prop crashed over for 14-4.
The Gorillas' lead was soon trimmed even further and this time it was Doosey who did it himself.
After strong carries by Tim Moore and Corey Mulhall, the Gorilla's defence was retreating and the Lions hooker darted over next to the posts.
Jake Taylor converted and Warilla's lead was down to 14-10 with just under 50 minutes gone.
That lead would stand for a further 10 minutes until the Lions finally got their noses in front.
Warilla-Lake South co-coach Troy Grant chats about his side’s 22-18 Group Seven Rugby League loss to the @GerringongLions at Cec Glenholmes Oval. The Gorillas, who are now 1-3, next host the Stingrays of Shellharbour in a must-win encounter on Sunday. @NSWRL@mercury_sportspic.twitter.com/826sKaIRF7— Courtney Rhys Ward (@CortRhysWard) August 30, 2020
Fullback Matt Winchester raced away down the middle of the field was bought down 10 out from the line.
A short-side raid on the next play got the ball to Taylor and the back-rower powered his way over in the corner.
Taylor then stepped up and added the sideline conversion to give the Lions a 16-14 lead with 20 to play.
Things then went from bad to worse for the Gorillas when Kinzett was sent off soon after the second half drinks break.
The Lions quickly made the most of the one-man advantage to extend their lead.
The ever-elusive Winchester found space behind the ruck and crashed his way for the Lions' fourth try.
Taylor's conversion gave Gerringong an eight-point buffer at 22-14 with just under 10 to play.
The Gorillas didn't lay down after Winchester's try and did all they could to claw back the lead.
Debutant winger Liam Vane Tempest dived over in the corner to give the Gorillas some hope at 22-18 with under five minutes remaining.
After the Lions tried to run down the clock, the Gorillas had a final shot on the siren but Brisbane's bomb proved too deep and the Lions held on for the win.
In an entertaining game, Winchester, Mulhall, Moore and Doosey all had strong games for the Lions, while Grant, Hooper, Brisbane and Guy Rosewarn were among the Gorillas' best.
The victors now travel to Kevin Walsh Oval on Saturday, while the Gorillas host the Stingrays on Sunday.