The Warringah Rats have won the Shute Shield for the first time in 12 years, defeating defending premiers Northern Suburbs in an electrifying final.
The 30-25 win caps off an emotional year for Warringah, who lost Lachlan Ward, brother of first grade vice-captain Sam, when he died on field in June.
The triumph was a come-from-behind effort for the Rats, who went into halftime behind by one point, and having had a man sent to the sin bin just prior to the siren.
Warringah fought back in the second half though, two spectacular tries enough to hold off a gallant Norths side, who will curse their wayward kicking, with two missed conversions and one missed penalty.
Straight from the kickoff, the match rocked back and forth, both sides putting pressure on their opposition’s line defence in the first five minutes.
The opening stages saw both teams miss kickable penalties, Shoreman Angus Sinclair prevailing on his second attempt to open the scoring, giving the home side the lead 3-0.
The Rats continued to pile the pressure on the hosts’ line, loosehead prop Rory O’Connor crashing over after some nice attacking zone phases.His try went unconverted, the score remaining 5-3.
Norths continued to miss out on easy points, making a nice break down the left touchline halfway through the term, only for Waratah Michael Wells to spill the final pass.
Errant kicking quickly became the theme of the day - a penalty from Sinclair saw the home team retake the lead 6-5, before Hamish Angus missed an opportunity to strike back from straight in front.
Warringah looked like grabbing the momentum when they crossed once more, Ward crashing his way in for a passionate five-pointer to grasp the lead back 12-6.
But the away side had all their go-forward snatched from them when influential flanker Tom Connor was sent to the sin bin and the Shoremen’s Ezra Luxton became the second loosehead to score for the match.
Despite some enterprising play from the locals to end the half, there would be no further scores, Norths going into the sheds with a one-point lead, 13-12.
After surviving their 10 minutes short a man without any points conceded, the Rats poked their tails in front with a penalty goal to take the score to 15-13.
With the Shoremen attempting to poke holes in a rock-solid Warringah defence, Sinclair got impatient, attempting a chip over the top of the defensive line.
His kick was charged down, landing in the hands of Warringah winger Harry Jones, who returned the ball 50 metres for a try, which went unconverted by Angus, to leave the scores at 20-13.
Norths were not about to spend a moment chasing the match though, Sinclair atoning for his earlier sin with a spectacular offload, sending Connor Vest in for a match-leveling try, which was duly converted.
Jones returned served for his side almost instantly, grubbering through a short defensive line and re-gathering himself for a highlight reel five-pointer, to once again put Warringah in front, 27-20.
Seven minutes from fulltime, with the home team seemingly struggling to get to the finishing line, a centimetre-perfect lineout move landed in the lap of Lachlan Creagh, who beat multiple defenders to score in the corner.
However, a tough sideline conversion from Sinclair only just missed, leaving the Shoremen two points adrift.
With just three minutes remaining, Norths conceded a heartbreaking penalty in front of the posts, Rats replacement Myles Dorrian pushing the margin out to five.
Given one final chance to secure back-to-back premierships, a quick lineout from the Shoremen landed in the hands of Sinclair, but with no support, he was forced into conceding a penalty for holding on.
As the siren sounded, Warringah opted for a scrum, kicking the ball into touch and securing their first Shute Shield since 2005, as emotional Rats players, fans, friends and family stormed the pitch.
An outpouring of emotion ensued from all watching on, as Ward was lifted aloft by a swarm of Rats, clutching a photo of his late brother.
Warringah fullback Dave Feltscheer and scrumhalf Josh Holmes explained what the Shute Shield triumph meant to them, after years of battling it out at the bottom.
“I felt like we were building to something special, obviously with the trials and tribulations we’ve had to get over this year, it felt right,” Feltscheer said.
“It’s an amazing feeling to finally get one after so many years of trying, we’ve been here for the bad years, battling it out for the wooden spoon. This means so much.”
“It’s amazing, it’s unbelievable. I’m speechless,” Holmes said, struggling for words, shaking his head in disbelief.
“The club’s been through a lot this year, we’ve been trying to get one for a long time but we’ve finally done it.”
Understandably struggling to keep his emotions in check, Rats captain Hamish Angus elaborated on his team’s heroic win.
“We really galvanised as a group, the way our defence and rucking went in that last 20 minutes was really impressive. It’s such a buzz.
“Tragically, with Lachie passing away, the impact the Ward family’s had on this group, it’s brought the club together.
“These things don’t happen by accident."
Tries: H Jones 2, O’Connor, Ward
Cons: Angus 2
Tries: Luxton, Vest, Creagh
Cons: A Sinclair
Pens: A Sinclair 3