THE Emerald Tigers had two opportunities to grab a thrilling comeback victory in the Central Highlands Rugby League grand final and they seized them both.
Minor premiers the Tigers celebrated a deserved 22-14 triumph in the premiership decider against the Middlemount Panthers at McIndoe Park, amplifying a party that started two hours earlier on Saturday night when the Emerald ladies toppled Clermont in their title match.
While fullback Jason King was a two-try standout, the Tigers can thank two flashes of creativity from hooker Matt Langby for retrieving the title which looked in peril when they trailed 14-6 with 25 minutes remaining.
King’s opportunistic second try gave the Tigers a sniff before Langby delicately rolled grubbers into the in-goal area for match deciding tries to Juston Cavanagh and Isaiah Huet.
“The first one was meant to be a short ball, a face ball to a runner, but the defender shot up and I saw space in behind,” Langby said.
“The second one, I saw no one down the blind side and thought I was going to score the try.
“I think those boys owe me a beer.”
More than two busloads of supporters from Middlemount pumped electricity into the McIndoe Park throng that was treated to a gripping season climax.
For the Panthers it was a gut-wrenching finish to a season which saw them fight off the possible collapse of the senior club before falling 20 minutes short of a fairytale win.
They were in control for much of the contest as lock Josh Rovelli repeatedly bulldozed his side into attacking territory.
Centre Sam Creedon looked dangerous and veteran halfback Joel Duffy schemed but the Tigers denied the visitors a knockout blow.
They had been near flawless in the first half, however a sequence of handling errors near their goal line all but gifted the upper hand to Emerald.
Classy five-eighth Mitch Wyatte was aiming for a sixth career title but was unable to wind up his trademark running game due to a groin injury that required a pre-match painkilling injection.
“They (Tigers) deserved it, they hung in there and we made crucial mistakes,” Wyatte said.
“Three dropped balls in your in-goal when you’re eight points in front – you can’t do it against a young, quality, fit team like that.
“They were the benchmark all year. We had our chances and blew it.”
EMERALD TIGERS 22 (Jason King 2, Juston Cavanagh, Isaiah Huet tries; Ray Ebsworth 2, Huet goals) d MIDDLEMOUNT PANTHERS 14 (Sam Creedon, Joel Duffy, Mitch Wyatte tries; Wyatte goal) at McIndoe Oval, Emerald.