The Canberra Royals claimed victory over the Tuggeranong Vikings in a heart-stopping 32-31 grand final to claim the John I Dent Cup at Viking Park in Canberra, reports Pat Woods.
The Vikings held the upper hand for most of the match but two tries to the Royals in the dying stages saw the Royals shoot out to an eight-point lead.
Vikings flyer Maika Ravouvou scored his second try of the day with only minutes remaining to bring the scores back to a one-point margin but despite attacking right to the final whistle, the Vikings were denied by the Royals.
It was a thrilling win for the Royals, who were denied by the Vikings in the decider last year. But for Tuggeranong it was heartbreak.
Recently crowned as the competition’s player of the year, Royals’ Pedro Rolando put the first points of the match on the board with a penalty from an almost unmissable position, but he made the crowd gasp with a wonky kick that barely cleared the crossbar.
However, the slim lead didn’t last for long. Ryan Lonergan levelled the scores minutes later when his team was awarded a penalty inside the attacking 22.
Vikings outside centre Andrew Robinson was then shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Andy Muirhead and Royals immediately made Tuggeranong pay, spinning the ball out wide to Jason Swain who was too powerful to stop from close range.
Rolando made no mistake with the conversion, extending his team’s lead to seven points.
The numerical advantage allowed Royals to dominate possession for the duration of Robinson’s sin-binning, and they were able to add another three points in this period via Rolando’s boot.
Working at the Royals try line with the safety of advantage, Sione Taula crashed his way onto the scoresheet and Lonergan had no trouble adding the extras.
Muirhead then put on a display of his blistering pace, running from inside his own 22 and drawing the fullback before finding his captain Ben Johnston with an offload as the pair crossed the halfway. Johnston had a lot of work to do with Dean Wilson giving chase, but he managed to stay half a step ahead of his adversary all the way to the line.
Rolando missed his only kick of the afternoon from a difficult angle, and that try proved to be the last points of the first half. Royals proved their defensive grit to open the second half, defending close to their line for nine minutes straight. Tuggeranong looked like they would score from a maul, but the Blue Baggers were resolute, holding up the ball carrier over the line.
However, eventually the pressure was too much and Lachlan Lonergan was able to crash the ball over next to the posts to set up an easy conversion for his older brother. Now within one point, Vikings looked to have the ascendancy and with more than a quarter of the match remaining Royals had to withstand immense pressure.
Maika Ravouvou gave the Vikings their first lead of the contest when he chased down a perfectly weighted kick from Lonergan.
With the ball sitting in the in goal, all he had to do was win the race to the ball and ground it to put his team in front.
Royals were now facing the prospect of chasing the lead for the first time, and with time running out they slowly became more and more adventurous with their play.
Tuggeranong were forced to give away multiple penalties while defending inside their 22, and the relentless attack eventually broke through with Jason Swain picking up his second try. Rolando booted his team in front again, but only by a nose.
Not long after the kick-off Royals found themselves on the attack again, and when Andy Muirhead collected a deft chip to the corner to score a try the match was all but decided.
Unfortunately, in the play leading up to the try Billy Carberry was injured and an ambulance had to be brought onto the field. The delay was an unavoidable dampener on what had been a fantastic game played at great pace.
After winning a penalty, a monster kick for touch from Ryan Lonergan gave Vikings a platform to attack from close range and Tuggeranong took little time to score a converted through Ravouvou.
With two minutes to go in the final, Vikings had closed the gap to a single point.
Tuggeranong chanced their arm from the kick-off and looked like they were going to score when Joe Langtry was put through a hole,but the play was called back for a forward pass.
Royals had a scrum feed on the halfway that would eat up the remaining 80 seconds to secure the win, all they had to do was win the scrum. But they couldn’t.
As Rolando tried to clear the ball from the back, he knocked it on and Vikings flanker Luke Gersekowski put in a grubber for Langtry to chase.
Langtry won the race to the ball but was bundled into touch as the crowd erupted.
Canberra Royals: (18) 32 (T: Jason Swain (2), Ben Johnston, Andrew Muirhead C: Pedro Rolando (3) P: Pedro Rolando (2))
def. Tuggeranong Vikings: (10) 31 (T: Sione Taula, Lachlan Lonergan, Maika Ravouvou (2) C: Ryan Lonergan (4) P: Ryan Lonergan)