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Monaro hold out Illawarra to claim maiden Championship

Led by Terry Campese, the Monaro Colts have defeated Illawarra South Coast Dragons in a nail-biting 18-16 win in the Men’s Country Championships Grand Final at H.E Laybutt Field in Sydney. 

Both sides came out firing, but the Dragons put themselves on the front foot with some second-phase play.

Illawarra got close to the try line and prop Dylan Farrell managed to barge his way over past three defenders and score.

Halfback and 2019 Country Player of the Year Cameron Vazzoler converted the extras to take the away side out to an early 6-0 lead.

Monaro hit back in the 25th minute as the Dragons were caught short on the far-left side and made it easy for winger Jake Butler-Fleming to break the line and score.

Former NRL great Terry Campese then locked up the scores at 6-all with 24 minutes left to play in the first half.

It looked as though South Coast were in again not long after Monaro’s try through fullback Samuel Clune but the pass was deemed forward.

A cross-field kick into the in-goal from Campese was contested for in the air, knocked back and collected by Colts centre William Peace who planted the ball down to score.

Campese was unsuccessful with the conversion to leave the score at 10-6 with 15 minutes remaining in the first half.

On the stroke of halftime, Illawarra found themselves in good field position and it was centre Ryan James who came up with some individual brilliance to level the scores. Vazzoler missed the conversion leaving the score at 10-10 heading into halftime.

An early second half error from the Colts let the Dragons into good field position and again it was James who capitalised. Picking up where he left off, James beat several defenders on the outside and went over in the right-hand corner. Vazzoler converted to extend the Dragons lead to 16-10.

The Colts found their way back into the game off the back of two penalties that gifted them an opportunity to attack the Dragons line. After opening up the right-hand side of the field, some second phase play helped Fullback Tristan Eldridge go over in the corner, with Campese converting to level the scores at 16-16.

After plenty of back-and-forth action, Terry Campese kicked a penalty goal from in front, giving the Colts a two-point lead in the 63rd minute.

In a last-ditch effort, the Dragons attempted to shift the ball and make their way 80m downfield until a handling error from the Dragons all but sealed a hard fought 18-16 victory for Monaro Colts.