It was third time lucky for the Halswell Hornets after they shook off two successive heartbreaking grand final losses to claim one in dramatic fashion over the Celebration Lions at Denton Park yesterday.
Brendon Tusa's 78th-minute try broke a 24-24 deadlock which gave the Hornets a heart-stopping 28-24 win after the Lions breathed some life into the contest.
Halswell captain Will Tafua was delighted to repay the faith to their legion of supporters, who were left disappointed by extra-time defeats to Hornby in 2012 and 2013.
"Today was all about repaying the faith to all of our supporters that were loyal," Tafua said.
"We've put them through enough heartbreak, so it was good to repay them."
The Hornets burst out of the blocks and were rewarded with the game's opening try in their first set of six when Tafua barged over on the back of a penalty.
Celebration hit back through Francis Tuiletufuga, who scored minutes after Halswell hooker Manu Weepu was sin binned for taking out a Lions support runner.
Hornets coach Darrell Coad said it was important his side started well and was delighted to maintain the lead following Weepu's sin binning and injuries to Jessie Rogers and Paul Sauni.
"It was an unfortunate incident for Manu," Coad said.
"He is one that seems to push the boundaries. That is the way he plays. Sometimes he gets away with it and sometimes he doesn't.
"We lost Jessie Rogers in the first 10 minutes after he snapped an Achilles. Paul Sauni had a rib injury which forced him out of the semifinal game against Celebration. He did his ribs again today so he was out, too, which left us with two forwards on the bench."
After Weepu returned from the sin bin, Halswell crossed for two further tries through Erwin Sauni and Kyle Pauro, which extended their lead to 24-8 at halftime and a scoreline like their 50-16 win over Celebration in the 2011 decider looked possible.
But the Lions stormed back on a run of 10 penalties and forward dominance mirroring the two sides semifinal clash at Crosbie Park two weeks ago. They scored three unanswered tries to send the game to a thrilling conclusion, which was tough on Coad's heart.
"I guess I can stop taking the heart pills now because the heart was racing at the end of the game, that's for sure."
Tafua said Celebration were a tough side to stop when they were on a roll, and he paid tribute to Mel Cooke Trophy winner Dan Moevao, who was named player of the match against his old side.
"It was exactly the same as the semifinal," he said. "He (Moevao) has been performing well for us all season.
"He had a wee break with concussion but that's why we love having him in the team because he's a workhorse and he doesn't complain. He just does the job and we are proud to play with him rather than against him."
Hornby beat Papanui 20-16 to take out the Gore Cup at Leslie Park on Saturday.
- The Press
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