KEAS CLINCH GF THREE-PEAT WITH LATE COMEBACK OVER GALLANT PANTHERS
The last CRL grand final at the historic Rugby League Park didn’t disappoint, as Linwood produced a remarkable comeback to beat Hornby 20-16 and win the Pat Smith Trophy for the third consecutive year.
Three late tries showed why the Keas have remained undefeated all season, displaying amazing character to reel in a 12-point deficit.
The result means the Keas are the first team in 37 years to win three straight finals.
A boisterous crowd added to the drama in what was a tight and entertaining way to finish the 2018 season.
Pesini Tavake opened the scoring for Hornby after a cagey first 20 minutes, as both teams gave nothing away and had to prove their defensive resolve early on.
Linwood started to dominate the ball but didn’t use it effectively, unable to capitalise on a stack of line dropouts forced by Toi Sepuloni’s deft short kicking game. The Panthers went into the break with a 6-0 lead.
Despite keeping Hornby in their own half for much of the opening 40, mistakes from Linwood allowed the Panthers to gain some momentum going into half time. Terrier-like Panthers halfback Brad Campbell controlled the ball well and got them out of some sticky situations on more than one occasion.
Linwood caught Hornby off guard early in the second stanza, scoring after just a minute courtesy of a fortunate bounce of the ball when Tavake allowed a bomb to bounce. Daniel Hartley cashed in on the ensuing play to put the Keas within two points.
Having had the wake-up call, the Panthers answered back straight away as Corey Lawrie touched down in front of the Hornby fans off a superb Campbell pass. James Baxendale converted the kick, putting Hornby back in control.
As the pace of the game picked up after a tense first half, players began to express themselves, much to the delight of the crowd.
Hornby started to look fluid and confident and winger Charlie Charlie finished off a well-worked try to give the Panthers a 16-4 lead.
Refusing to give up, the Keas kept pushing, and were rewarded as the first cracks in the Panthers’ defense were finally exposed. Sepuloni burrowed through to score with 15 minutes to play. The conversion was dragged wide by Hartley.
With everything to play for, the Keas put the Panthers under intense pressure. Erwin Sauni pushed through to score, and with Hartley making the kick, the grand final became a two-point game with five minutes to go.
The Panthers were rattled further when they incurred a penalty for being offside at the kick-off. Veteran prop Alex Todd received an offload from Hartley just ahead of the Panthers’ line and forced his way through to give the Keas the lead for the first time in the match.
From there it was a case of keeping Hornby in their own half as the Linwood supporters rallied behind their team.
The fulltime siren signalled an agonising third straight grand final defeat for the Panthers and the most extraordinary yet of the Keas’ three consecutive premiership successes.
Alex Todd was awarded the Mel Cooke Memorial Trophy as man of the match for the second year in a row as Linwood sealed another classic grand final, but the prestigious award could easily have gone to a player on the losing team with Panthers forward trio Baxendale, Lawrie and Rulon Nutira absolutely outstanding, along with the plucky Campbell.