Spurred by the memory of Mitch Cronin, Wynnum Manly put in a rousing performance to outclass West Brisbane Panthers and claim a Brisbane Rugby League three-peat with a 41-6 victory.
Both sides had strong support at Pathion Park, but it was the Seagulls fans who were in full voice early with their team leading from start to finish in a comprehensive performance.
It was a successful day all around for Wynnum Manly who also took out the BRL Reserve Grade final with a 22-20 win over Valleys Diehards.
Junior Pauga - who featured in last year’s Intrust Super Cup grand final loss to Burleigh Bears - was outstanding today for Wynnum Manly, scoring a try and slotting six goals in the seven-tries-to-one-win.
Pauga was one of a handful of Seagulls who decided to play in the In Safe Hands Cup competition this year after starting the season with the first grade squad.
Keen to get back onto the field when presented with the opportunity, the centre joined with the BRL team to take part in their season.
“It felt good, considering I lost against Burleigh last year in the [Intrust Super] Cup, so winning this one was pretty special,” Pauga said after the game.
“When COVID hit, we got told that Cup was off; and then I heard that BRL was [coming back], so I was like... even though Cup was not on, [I thought] this would be a good opportunity for me to play footy and have fun with the boys.
“It was pretty good [to be part of the team]; I have some mates, we all came from New Zealand and the goal was for them to play Cup [this year].
“They haven’t made that debut yet for Cup, but they are still working their way through BRL and hopefully come through Cup next year.”
As for the game itself, Pauga was thrilled to have won the match and said it was a hard contest, despite the final score.
“[Coming into the grand final] I knew that it was going to be a hard game, but we had a game plan; we stuck to it and came out on top in the end.
“I thought Matt Milson, our fullback, played really well today and Harrison Graham and Luke Bateman.”
Another strong performer for the Seagulls was fellow centre Harlan Collins who was one of three players to be involved in all three grand final wins in the row alongside player of the match Milson and prop Corey Davis.
Collins was emotional after the game and conceded it had been a difficult season for him after tearing his bicep in Round 3.
Unsure of if he’d be able to rejoin the team; the grand final was his third game back and he was overjoyed to have been able to get back on the field with a team that means so much to him.
“[This feels] just as good as the other wins,” Collins said.
“It’s been a tough year, I have been injured most of the year, so playing in this and winning another grand final with these boys is crazy.
“We are a tight-knit group, we are just one big family.
“We always knew that if we stuck to our plan, held the ball and completed we would just run away with it and that’s what we did in the second half.
“The feeling at training this week was pretty good hey. It was pretty relaxed, pretty kicked-back this week.
"The boys were just keen to get this job done and we knew if we made it here we would cause some trouble and that’s what we did.”
The Seagulls started the game in a dominant fashion, scoring the first try of the match thanks to Rahkeem Auda. They backed that up when Max Elliott crashed over from close range.
Things were relatively tight in the first half from then, with Brandon Downey also crossing for what turned out to be the only try of the game for the Panthers.
It was in the second half that the Seagulls shone, firing early when late call-up from the Wynnum Manly Reserve Grade side Benjamin Farr made it a game to remember, crossing for an impressive try to open the second-half scoring.
It was one-way traffic from there, with the Seagulls putting in a relentless performance against a Panthers side that had to contend with a number of injuries during the match.
Aaron Booth slotted a field goal once the result was beyond doubt, while Intrust Super Cup forward Elliott capped off the dominant performance, diving in under the posts for his second four-pointer of the match in the final minute of the game.
It was the last game in charge for West Brisbane Panthers coach Craig Ingebrigtsen who has served in the game for many years, and it was another heartbreak for popular rugby league figure Tommy Butterfield who had played superbly for the Panthers during the season.
As well as taking home the player of the match award, Seagulls fullback Milson was also awarded player of the competition honours.
In claiming the silverware for the year, Seagulls captain Booth dedicated the win and the season to the well-respected Cronin, who passed away earlier this year.
“I would like to dedicate this win to him; we were playing for him all year this year,” Booth said in the post-game presentation.
“I am a firm believer in you can’t beat a team playing on emotion, and we had a 14th man on the field with us; Mitchy Cronin, so these two are for Cro.
In Safe Hands BRL A Grade grand final result
Wynnum Manly Seagulls 41 (Max Elliott 2, Matt Milson, Junior Pauga, Rahkeem Auda, Ben Farr, Manaia Cherrington tries; Junior Pauga 6 goals; Aaron Booth field goal) defeated West Brisbane Panthers 6 (Brandon Downey try; Kyle Van Klaveren goal)
Player of the match: Matt Milson
2020 In Safe Hands Cup award winners
Player of the year: Matthew Milson (Wynnum Manly Seagulls)
Coach of the year: Darren Ferricks (Wynnum Manly Seagulls)
Top try scorer: Jayden Corrigan (Valleys Diehards)
Top points scorer: Scott Prince (Valleys Diehards)