The premiership drought finally broke for the Narrandera Lizards at Barellan Sports Ground on Saturday.
Playing in both Proten Cup deciders in front of a crowd estimated to be more than 2000, the Lizards won their first major title since 1999 after defeating Goolgowi 16-nil in the women’s Grand Final before coming from behind to defeat Ivanhoe 20-14 in the men’s decider.
The Lizards women dominated in a one-sided contest, with the likes of Tiana Rose, Amanda Rourke, Amie Fazekas and Bella Eason proving too hard to handle as Narrandera lifted their first ever Proten Cup title.
In the men’s decider, the result went down to the wire, with Narrandera and Ivanhoe locked up at 14-all with six minutes to play.
A moment now etched in Proten Cup history separated the two sides, with Clinton Green grubbering in behind the Roosters’ line for big man Malek Afuamua-Lyons, who grounded the ball. Kane Simpson converted, and the Lizards went on to win 20-14.
Afuamua-Lyons explained what went through his mind before, during and after scoring the game-winning try.
“It was a close game, and it was getting to that point where we needed to score,” Afuamua-Lyons said.
“I thought Clinton was going to give me the ball to go one-on-one with the centre, but he kicked it and I thought, ‘bugger it, I’ve got to chase and get it’.
“I got it and when I scored, the boys were jumping all over me. I felt on top of the world and felt like the best player ever and to do it in front of that many Narrandera locals; words just can’t describe it.”
Afuamua-Lyons shared the moment with his little brother, Bodean Tereva, who coincidently scored the first try for the Lizards when storming through four Ivanhoe defenders in the first half.
“Bodean is only 17 and he scored the first try, which was pretty special considering I scored the last one,” Afuamua-Lyons said.
“Then to win a premiership with him; it was just an amazing day.”
Narrandera relied largely on a home-grown team, with players returning to the fold for the 2022 Proten Cup season. Afuamua-Lyons, 22, said it was a real experience to play with some Lizards’ greats and bring the town a drought-breaking premiership.
“It meant everything,” he said.
“I was crying after the game with my brother, little cousin, and it was all the more special to do it with a team full of Narrandera boys.
“These are guys I grew up with, and some of them I looked up to as a junior, like Troy Prior, Kye Longford, Ronnie (Bamblett), Richie Bamblett, John Williams, and those blokes.
“Just being around those guys was awesome, but to turn around and win a premiership with them and for the town; it’s terrific.”
The Lizards forward was full of praise for the women’s team too, and he believes their dominant Grand Final win set the scene at Barellan on Saturday.
“The girls, they set the platform for us, and I feel like we wouldn’t have been on such a high if they didn’t win,” Afuamua-Lyons said.
“They really set the tone and set the standards all year; they played hard, partied hard and supported us all year and I was so glad to see them win and to see the Lizards get the double.”
The 2022 Proten Cup competition didn’t fail to deliver some good bush Rugby League, and that in part comes back to the strong involvement of indigenous players in the competition.
Both Narrandera and Ivanhoe boast a proud history of producing talented Aboriginal rugby league players and athletes, and there was plenty of indigenous talent on show throughout the season and in the decider.
“Ivanhoe and Narrandera are the two most indigenous-influenced towns in the competition, and it was great to see them play in the Grand Final,” Afuamua-Lyons said.
“They put on a show on the weekend, and full credit to Ivanhoe; they were so good, and there was some good footy played.
“You could tell it meant a lot to both teams to be in the Grand Final. I know for me it meant everything.
“I have worn that many jerseys in my 22 years, and there is nothing better than pulling on that Lizards jersey for my mob, and my town.
“Words can’t describe what this win means for us here in Narrandera and what this comp means for Ivanhoe, Hillston, Goolgowi and those teams.”
Narrandera’s Proten Cup double ends the 2022 season, but Riverina Rugby League really starts to heat up in the coming months, with both the Group 20 and Group 9 competitions heading towards finals.
Group 20 Round 14 results: Leeton def Griffith Waratahs-Tigers 52-6; Darlington Point-Coleambally def West Wyalong 34-26; Griffith Black and Whites def Tullibigeal-Lake Cargelligo 58-24.
Group 20 Round 14/Round 15 draw: Darlington Point-Coleambally v Leeton; Hay v Griffith Black and Whites; Tullibigeal-Lake Cargelligo v Yenda; Yanco-Wamoon v West Wyalong.
Group 20 ladder: Darlington Point-Coleambally 26, Leeton 24, Griffith Black and Whites 22, Griffith Waratahs-Tigers 16, West Wyalong 16, Hay 14, Yenda 8, Yanco-Wamoon 8, Tullibigeal-Lake Cargelligo 6.
Group 9 Round 13 split-round results: Tumut def Young 24-14,
Group 9 Round 13 split-round draw: Albury v Temora; Brothers v Southcity.
Group 9 ladder: Gundagai 25, Young 22, Temora 20, Tumut 16, Kangaroos 12, Albury 11, Brothers 8, Southcity 8.