Club guru Mick Heenan was rated worthy of a crack at elite level coaching after masterminding a sixth premiership for the University of Queensland on Sunday.
The never-in-doubt 29-12 victory over GPS at Suncorp Stadium made Heenan the most successful coach in 76 years of post-war club rugby in Queensland.
Premierships have flowed in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2021 through his 13-season run as a coaching rock at UQ.
It nudged him ahead of Ron Price and the late Joe French, the Brothers’ duo he had shared the “five-time” mantle with.
Uni’s strong first-half defence, finals-footy mindset and excellent set piece work to set up their two first half tries snuffed out any chance error-prone GPS thought they had.
For former Wallabies skipper and hooker Stephen Moore, it was a dream farewell to the game at 38 after being coaxed out of retirement to play off the bench from early in the season.
“That’s definitely me done. The feeling is quite surreal to win a premiership after never expecting to play,” Moore said after his strong 20-minute cameo.
“This is a great group, of great people as well as players.
“Our first half was outstanding with the physicality and control of the ball.
“This is good for the whole club and a real sign of Mick Heenan’s very successful time. I’d love to see him get a chance at the higher levels, Super Rugby or whatever.”
Winger Kye Oates also saluted Heenan for creating “the tightest group I’ve ever played in.”
Heenan’s insatiable love of coaching was unwittingly born in the crossfire of spirited rugby debates between the late Wallaby Jake Howard and his wife Margariete.
As a uni student, young Heenan had been a lodger at the Howards’ Ashgrove home for more than two years after going to school with their son Pat, the future Wallaby.
Coaching Brisbane City (2017-18) in the defunct National Rugby Championship has been the short taste at the higher level for Heenan, 48.
GPS didn’t fire a shot in the first 40 minutes when a far more clinical Uni side had a 21-0 lead on the board and one hand on the Hospital Challenge Cup.
Winger Kye Oates had a fine game. Scoring the opening try after nine minutes really set the tone.
Former Wallabies hooker James Hanson showed his expertise with a perfect long lineout throw to flanker Sam Wallis that was turned into good ball for the backs.
Centre Lukas Ripley threw one of those bounce passes which is indicative of the day you are going to have. Instead, of bouncing awkwardly, it sat up perfectly for the headgeared Oates who scooted unmarked to the corner.
The winger has Indigenous heritage and he couldn’t help but imitate the goanna hand-crawl try celebration of rugby league legend Greg Inglis.
“Actually, it started as a goanna and finished as a Latrell Mitchell ‘kangaroo’. It just happened. Winning is such an awesome feeling,” Oates said.
It was early to start the celebrations in a grand final but it was a sign of the one-way traffic to follow.
Coming wedged between his two early penalty goals, it meant an 11-0 jump after 17 minutes.
GPS was the side needing the fast start to throw some pressure onto the minor premiers but they were their own worst enemies.
Flyhalf Jason Hofmeyr kicked the ball dead in-goal from a penalty 30m out when trying to set up a lineout. He bungled a kick-off too.
A wave of penalties given away by GPS, poor ball control and not kicking for points when they had a few chances compounded.
When Hanson burrowed over at the back of a driving maul off a lineout for 18-0, the grand final was all but decided after just 27 minutes.
“Our effort was good but we kept putting pressure on ourselves with silly penalties and their defence put us under more,” GPS coach Shane Arnold said.
“Uni played a really good game of finals footy. Too good.”
Uni did so even when losing flyhalf Brad Twidale with a lingering hamstring injury in the opening 20 minutes. Replacement Scott Gale had a fine game as did strong-running No.8 Iona Halaholo.
Arnold said his players were rapt to have the rare chance to play a club grand final at Suncorp Stadium.
Uni were already 24-0 ahead when Wallis produced a gem of a try. He took the ball off the back of a scrum and his determination enabled him to shrug and plough through four defenders for a try down the short side.
He was a worthy winner of the Tony Shaw Medal as the Player of the Grand Final.
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That GPS had a belated final surge in them at all was due to non-stop flanker Matt Gicquel.
There is strong word around that he has a professional deal to play in France.
It will be a shame if he goes without a chance in Super Rugby.
Moore is a fan: “I don’t know how the GPS’ No.7 is not playing Super Rugby. He has workrate and made plays when his side needed him in the semi-final and grand final. That’s the character you look for.”
Heenan had a quiet smile of satisfaction after it all. After the celebrations this week he’ll get a chance to read his Father’s Day book present, Blessed: The Breakout Year of Rampaging Roy Slaven.
“I’m really proud of this group and their consistency over the whole year most of all. Actually, the consistency of the club over 10-12 years has been impressive,” Heenan said.
“The forward pack was sensational.”