After three attempts, the Hervey Bay Seagulls finally claimed their maiden Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership with a hard fought come-from-behind 20-12 grand final victory over Waves Tigers at Salter Oval.
Beaten grand finalists by Past Brothers in 2011-12 and 2015, history looked set to repeat for the Seagulls when the Tigers pounced to take a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes with scintillating tries to fullback Zak Bainbridge and captain and five-eighth Tien Nguyen and two conversions to Bainbridge.
But the Seagulls, who were chasing their 19th win in a row since a one-point loss to Past Brothers in the season opener back on March 5, regrouped and weathered the storm of several more explosive Waves raids.
Although having played just once in the previous four weeks and without two of their biggest guns in injured player/coach Tye Ingebrigtsen and the suspended Joel McCrea, they were disjointed in attack, and it took until the 33rd minute for them to open their account.
Five-eighth Damien Otto, who joined the club from Wallaroos this season, swung the momentum, taking a quick tap and sprinting 50m to score and captain and halfback Clinton Horne converted.
Horne then produced some magic with a 70m break, before passing to hooker Kevin Tranberg, who in turn passed for 18-year-old Melbourne Storm bound winger Chol Chol to finish brilliantly with less than three minutes to halftime. Horne added the extras from the sideline to level the scores.
Chol, who fled war-torn Sudan with his family at the age of six and settled in New Zealand, before accepting a scholarship in 2015 at Ipswich State High School, started this season with Ipswich Jets in the Intrust Super Cup, but transferred to the Bay and made his debut for them on June 5.
The Seagulls started the second stanza how they finished the first, but they squandered at least three golden opportunities to score again until taking the lead a Clinton Horne penalty goal from directly in front of the posts in the 50th minute.
They continued to dominate territorially, but continued to lack execution, while Waves were also impotent in attack.
Coach Antonio Kaufusi later blamed that partially on losing match-winning centres Reuben Baillie and Sekope Tua to injuries early in the second half.
Such was Waves’ nightmare that on the only real attacking chance they had in the first 30 minutes of the half and ended in a line drop-out, they knocked the ball into touch from the kick.
The Seagulls finally gave themselves an eight-point buffer with Horne’s younger brother and electric centre Terry doing well to force his way over in the left corner in the 69th minute and his big brother landing the tough conversion.
Whether or not the Bay thought they had the game won and switched off, the Tigers picked themselves up off the canvas and did most of the attacking over the last 10 minutes, but the Seagulls defended for their lives and held them out.
Blockbusting Seagulls front rower Tyson Woodman received the Les Somerville Medal for the grand final best and fairest, but they had many heroes, with former dual BRL A Grade Player of the Year Clinton Horne truly leading from the front in a robust team performance.
Becoming the first coach to win an A Grade title with the club since Dean Pay steered them to Group 1 glory in 2001, was a fitting farewell to the highly decorated Ingebrigtsen, before he takes up a new coaching appointment in Cairns next month.
Ingebrigtsen, who took the reins two years ago, said the premiership was just reward for the men and women who have devoted decades to the club, such as Dave Yarrow and Terry Lynch.
“This is their day. It's everyone's. We can't pay players at Hervey Bay so it's built on a great culture and friendship, there's nothing better than to win like that,” Ingebrigtsen said.
“It's probably the proudest moment of my life.”
Clinton Horne devoted the premiership to Ingebrigtsen and the whole club.
“It hurt so much losing those three, but now I know the feeling of winning one and it's unbelievable … credit to the boys, that last 10 minutes of defence won us the game,” Horne said.
It was also a fitting farewell for retiring rugged 38-year-old club stalwart second rower Adam Roderick, who was the only playing survivor from their golden team of 2001, when he captained the side (although trainer Guy Meredith was also an integral member of that team).
While disappointed to lose, former NRL star and State of Origin and Test player Kaufusi was proud of his players in his first year of coaching after the club had spent most of the previous nine years as minnows, and they will be bigger and better next year.
Hervey Bay also contested the Under 18 grand final, but they were blown away by Past Brothers 34-10 despite scoring the first try of that match.
Brothers fullback Layton Chambers, who scored one try and laid on two more as well as kicking four goals was Man of the Match.
Brothers’ Women also completed an unbeaten season with a 46-0 whitewash of Isis, with Christi Chapman, who played in several positions during the game, bagging a hat-trick of tries.
Powerhouse forwards Morgan Engstrom and Stephanie Shearer each notched doubles, but they were all beaten for the Player of the Match gong by crafty halfback Jude Bust.
Brothers also contested the Reserve grade decider, but they were beaten by Maryborough Brothers 20-12.
Grand Final Results
Hervey Bay 20 (Damien Otto, Chol Chol, Terry Horne tries; Clinton Horne 4 goals) def Waves Tigers 12 (Zak Bainbridge, Tien Nguyen tries; Zak Bainbridge 2 goals)
Maryborough Brothers 20 (Ethan Miller, Kyle Mongta, Victor Davis, Robert Miller tries; Robert Miller, Lincoln Willmot goals) def Bundaberg Brothers 12 (Keane Gooch, Bryce Holdsworth, Chris Royan tries)
Past Brothers 34 (Layton Chambers, Wyatt Reynolds, Ben Davey, Kedron Pointon, Jamie Morey, Addam Grant tries; Layton Chambers 4, Tyrell Howard goals) def Hervey Bay 10 (Ben Hudson, Tennessey Newman tries; Jayden Shepherd goal)
Past Brothers 46 (Christie Chapman 3, Morgan Engstrom 2, Stephanie Shearer 2, Jaedyn Stibbards, Chelsea Morrison tries; Bonnie Coolee 4, Simone Van Den Kieboom goals) def Isis 0