Try-saving tackle by inspirational skipper Agaese Fiso sparks Linwood Keas' second consecutive Canterbury rugby league title
Retiring Linwood co-captain Agaese Fiso was cheered - and chaired - off Linfield Park after inspiring the Keas to their first back-to-back Canterbury Rugby League grand final titles with his own special Scott Sattler moment.
The Keas were deserved winners of the Pat Smith Trophy after they came from 16-4 down to thump the Hornby Panthers 34-20 after scoring seven tries before more than 2500 fans on Sunday.
Alex Todd - a clearcut winner of the Mel Cooke man of the match medal - led Linwood's charge, but the turning point came from the veteran Fiso in his final premiership game.
With the score locked at 16-16 late in the first half, the 36-year-old summoned up every last ounce of energy to sprint back and make a try-saving ankle-tap tackle on runaway Hornby wing Charlie Charlie.
It reminded rugby league fans of Penrith veteran Scott Sattler's try-saver on Roosters wing Todd Byrne in the 2003 NRL grand final.
"It was just the never-give attitude," Fiso said after receiving the trophy, mobbed by scores of Linwood supporters brandishing banners blaring: "Green Machine" and "Do the Mahi - get the treats."
Andrew Auimatagi's Keas have done the mahi - hard work - all season and it was their dogged defence that won a second successive grand final.
All 17 green-clad men contributed mightily, but Fiso's determined pursuit of Charlie, who had grabbed an intercept and set sail for the Linwood line, seemed to spur the Keas to new heights.
"I didn't want to let the boys down," shrugged Fiso, who also played his part on attack, making a key break to set up Joseph Purcell-Mika to give Linwood the lead in the 34th minute.
Linwood made Hornby pay for individual mistakes under high balls with two tries to workaholic backrower Mike Nichols-Caine and Danny Latu just before halftime.
That gave them an eight-point buffer and they etched their name on the trophy with a try to Will Yeow after the interval following another Hornby fumble.
There was no sense of panic when Linwood - who led early through hooker Alani Kakoi's second minute try - trailed by 12 points after the proud Panthers struck back through wing Chris Eric, hooker Tyrone Arona and second-rower Will Tafua, who finished off a surge sparked by an Arona break.
Linwood's line speed was impressive for the final three quarters and coach Auimatagi said it had been a feature of their season.
"I put that down to the commitment the boys have in each other. They're a pretty tight bunch and when the going's tough, they look after each other."
Auimatagi said "making history" as the first Linwood team to win two titles in a row was a proud achievement."
"We grew up looking up to the legends of Linwood on the [clubrooms] wall and they are going to be on the wall themselves one day," he said of his 2016-17 squads.
Todd, the Canterbury Bulls frontrower and a nephew of ex-Kiwis prop Brent Todd, got a big wrap from Auimatagi.
"Alex was outstanding, with and without the ball. He pretty much played every minute of that game in the middle; he's one of the toughest guys and Jiordan [prop Jiordan Fidow-Kele] carried really strongly.
"It was our forwards who got us back in the game today."
Keas fullback Erwin Sauni was also instrumental in the comeback, adding plenty of punch in the line.
He scored a finely judged try, running a great line onto a clever ball from standoff half Toi Sepuloni to ignite the Keas' comeback.
Auimatagi said Fiso had been all about winning for the team, not for himself. Some of the boys probably didn't know it was his last game till they read it in the paper".
"He's the ultimate team man, it's great to see him sent out a winner like that."
Hornby tasted a second successive grand final defeat to Linwood with the writing on the wall when the Keas doggedly defended their line after conceding back-to-back penalty sets in their own quarter.
The Panthers had the consolation of scoring the game's final try when Jonny Limmer rolled back the years with a darting run and superb pass for Tauvale Tauvale to cross.
But it was Linwood's day and a perfect way, as Fiso noted, to mark Canterbury's first east-side grand final "in the east".
At a glance
Linwood Keas 34 (Alani Kakoi, Erwin Sauni, Mike Nicholls-Cane, Joseph Purcell-Mika, Danny Latu, Will Yeow, Jiordan Fidow-Kele tries; Toi Sepuloni 2, Purcell-Mika goals) defeated Hornby Panthers 20 (Chris Eric, Tyrone Arona, Willie Tafua, Tauvale Tauvale tries; Craig Smith 2 goals). HT: 24-16. Referee: Jason Wilson.
Mel Cooke Medal for man of the match: Alex Todd (Linwood). John Coffey Cup for winning grand final coach: Andrew Auimatagi (Linwood).