Innisfail clinched their first Cairns District Rugby League A Grade premiership since 2006 with an emotional 30-20 win over Ivanhoe Knights in the 2015 Grand Final at Barlow Park yesterday.
In a thrilling encounter, Ivanhoes fought back from 16-0 down to lead 20-16 with just 11 minutes left on the clock before two late Matthew Healey tries sealed the win for the Leprechauns.
It was a fitting send-off for retiring Innisfail legends Ty Williams and Rod Jensen, who both played their last games of rugby league after glittering careers in the NRL and at local level.
Williams ranked the victory alongside appearing in the 2005 NRL Grand Final with the North Queensland Cowboys and in the Queensland Maroons State of Origin team the same year.
“I’m very emotional. As soon as the buzzer went, I shed a few tears because it’s where I grew up, and my dream was always to play for the Innisfail Leprechauns,” said Williams.
“I feel very lucky to have played at the highest level in the NRL and in State of Origin, but this is right up there with them.
“This has been two years in the making. We’ve worked very hard, put in a lot of hours on the training paddock, just running up and down, and we got back to our processes – that’s what won us the game at the end there.
“Me and Roddy (Rod Jensen) have got our own history. We’ve been mates for a long time, and we both wanted to win this premiership.
“We were nervous at the end with them leading, but we just told each other that this was our season right now, and I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.
“Full credit to Ivanhoes too – they’re a good young squad, and I’m sure they’ll learn from the experience and come back stronger next year.”
For Innisfail, the win erased last year’s painful Grand Final loss to Cairns Kangaroos, and Jensen was highly emotional at the thought of having played his last rugby league game.
“It’s all a bit surreal at the moment. It’s a fantastic feeling but I feel a bit lost after playing rugby league for 20 years, to know this is it. It’s very emotional for me,” said Jensen.
Innisfail powered into a 16-0 lead after 24 minutes thanks to tries from Ben Reuter, Luke Romano and Healey.
However, Ivanhoes then launched a thrilling comeback, Zane Prior, Trent Barnard and Marvin Toko all crossing, before a superb individual Adrian Henley try put the Knights in front for the first time after 63 minutes.
But Jensen levelled matters with 11 minutes left to set up a grandstand finish, and Healey completed his hat-trick with two late scores to seal the premiership for Innisfail.
Ivanhoes coach Ben Rauter said the crucial moment in the game was when his side lost livewire hooker Zane Prior to a head knock when the score was 16-16.
“Innisfail got their breath back after that and played really well at the end there, and full credit to them, they came home strong,” he said.
“We’re a young group of players who really stick together, and I think most of our boys will be back again next year.”
It was a day to remember for Yarrabah Seahawks as they won premierships in the Second Division and Reserve Grade following victories over Southern Suburbs and Cairns Brothers respectively.
Tully Tigers, inspired by North Queensland Cowboys Under 20s-bound star Jake Clifford, won the Under 18s premiership with a convincing 50-14 win over Cairns Brothers.
2015 CDRL GRAND FINALS
Sunday 20 September – Barlow Park, Cairns
A Grade Grand Final
Innisfail Leprechauns 30 (Matthew Healey 3, Ben Reuter, Luke Romano, Rod Jensen tries; Matthew Healey 3 goals) def Ivanhoe Knights 20 (Zane Prior, Trent Barnard, Marvin Toko, Adrian Henley tries; Prior 2 goals).
Reserve Grade Grand Final
Yarrabah Seahawks 28 (O. Fourmile Jr 2, D. Bounghi, W. Bounghi, Gibson tries; M. Dabah 4 goals) def Cairns Brothers 18 (Roberts, Newman, Weai tries; Maka 3 goals).
Under 18s Grand Final
Tully Tigers 50 (Anderson 2, Tuatai 2, Clifford 2, Hadson, Bennett, Spicer tries; Clifford 3, Campagnola 2, Tuatai goals) def Cairns Brothers 14 (Charlie, Nona, Solomon tries; Tognolini goal).
Second Division Grand Final
Yarrabah Seahawks 40 (Ambrym 2, C. Fourmile, C. Dabah, Thaiday, Prior tries; C. Dabah 8 goals) def Southern Suburbs 20 (R. Fourmile 2, McCosker tries; McCosker 2, J. Fourmile goals).