A touch of Willie Heta class and strong 12-man defence has seen South Newcastle break a 27-year premiership drought and hand minor premiers Macquarie a second straight grand final loss.
The 21-12 result on Sunday afternoon at Hunter Stadium, the same venue as the Lions last success in 1989, capped off a club championship-winning season to remember for the red and white faithful of Merewether.
Those long waiting fans stormed the field at full-time to celebrate with players before captain-coach Todd Hurrell proudly held the Newcastle Rugby League trophy aloft as rain tumbled down in dark conditions.
“Everything has just lined up this year,” Souths secretary and former champion Dave Fleming said.
“We started well, we had the perfect storm at the end of the season to win the club championship on Sleapys Day and now this just absolutely tops it all off. They had to do it the hard way with one in the bin, but they got there in the end and the drought is finally broken.”
Hurrell was sent to the sin bin for a swinging arm with 14 minutes remaining.
It came shortly after five-eighth Heta helped Souths regain the lead courtesy of back-to-back tries.
Down 12-7 the competition’s players’ player laid one on for fullback Sam Cook with a deft grubber kick from short range in the 56th minute before following it up with his own solo “show and go” effort near the hour mark.
But despite being up 19-12 the Lions were forced to repeatedly protect their own line a man down and successfully repelled the Scorpions attack before Heta sealed victory with a penalty goal in front four minutes from time.
“It’s unbelievable,” Hurrell said. “An unreal effort from 1 to 17. The guys really put in, dug their heels in and defended their butts off in that second half. It was probably our best 10 minutes in defence and they really put in for each other. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.”
Souths arrived at grand final day the hard way, playing top three teams the last four weeks, but reversed the result from the major semi at Toronto a fortnight ago.
The Lions led the decider 7-6 at half-time with halfback Rex Johnson slotting a one pointer just before the break. Winger Jarod Flanagan opened the scoring out wide after just five minutes with his 17th try of the season.
SOUTH NEWCASTLE 21 (Jarod Flanagan, Sam Cook, Willie Heta tries; Heta 3 conversions, penalty; Rex Johnson field goal) defeated MACQUARIE 12 (Randall Briggs, Teason Fa;avae-Eli tries; Scott Briggs 2 conversions).