Illawarra South Coast Dragons have made up for the pain of last year’s Grand Final defeat after beating Northern Rivers Titans 26-16 to claim the title in the Men’s Country Championships today at St Marys Leagues Stadium.
The Dragons were always in control of the match after establishing a 16-0 lead at half-time and they took advantage of Titans captain Joe Besgrove being sent to the sin bin in the second half to score two quick tries and extend the lead to 26-4.
It was a sweet result for the Dragons, after they just missed out claiming the premiership to the Monaro Colts last year.
“The win feels great; we were in the Grand Final here last year and lost to Monaro,” Dragons captain Nathan Ford said.
“We beat them in the Semi-final and to get the win here today feels amazing. There’s a few boys here at the back end of their careers so it’s good to get a win for them.”
Both sides had gone into the Grand Final in strong form, after going through the regular season undefeated. The Titans booked their place in the decider with a win over the Northern Tigers while Illawarra South Coast Dragons beat last year’s premiers, Illawarra South Coast Dragons.
The Dragons got off to a flying start after the Titans failed to clean up a kick close to their line and winger Hamish Holland pounced on the loose ball to score the opening try of the afternoon. Blair Grant landed the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
The Titans had their opportunities but were unable to capitalise. Halfback Harry Fitzhugh received a penalty after being taken out on a chip and chase, but they coughed up possession in the next set to let the Dragons off the hook.
That error was compounded when the Titans were penalised for a one-one-one strip and it wasn’t long before Grant launched a clever kick across field for Dragons winger Callan Thistlethwaite to grab and score in the corner. Grant missed the conversion, but the Dragons were in control at 10-0.
The Titans had another opportunity just before half-time but Kyle Kennedy was unable to hang on to the bullet-like pass with the try-line beckoning. The missed opportunity was made worse when Dragons five-eighth Jake Brisbane powered his way over the line to score just before the break. Grant converted to have the Dragons in control at 16-0.
The Titans needed something to spark them in the second half and captain and hooker Joe Besgrove obliged, when he fired a long pass out for Rhys Riches to wheel around in a tackle and plant the ball over the line. Oliver Regan missed the conversion but the deficit was reduced to 16-4.
The comeback was short-lived after Besgrove was sin binned for repeated infringements and it didn’t take long for the Dragons to seize the advantage. Prop Jake Kamire powered his way over the line from the restart and Grant added the extras for a 22-4 lead.
Grant, who had been the Dragons best player, then proved too elusive for the Titans defence to score a well-deserved try and extend the lead to 26-4.
The Titans scored two late tries through Robert Shepherd and Kalani Hensby to put some respectability back in the score line, but the day belonged to the Dragons.
“Today was an outstanding effort from both sides just to have the game put forward on a great track,” Dragons coach Wade Forrester said.
“Preparation-wise we probably struggled because of the wet weather, and I think most sides would have struggled, so to put a performance on like that today was outstanding.”
Illawarra South Coast Dragons 26 (Hamish Holland, Callan Thistlethwaite, Jake Brisbane, Jake Kamire, Blair Grant tries; Grant 3 goals) Northern Rivers Titans 16 (Rhys Riches, Robert Shepherd, Kalani Hensby tries; Oliver Regan 2 goals).