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The two vital five-pointers that demoralised the plucky Arrowtowners in the second spell of the Central Otago premier club final went to massive front rower Jackson Clark and towering lock Alex Grogan.
Clark’s try was a bonus gift from the opposition after Arrowtown’s throw to a defensive lineout missed its own men and found an unmarked Clark, who could not believe his good fortune.
He will never score an easier try.
Grogan’s try was far more spectacular and memorable and came after the Cromwell forwards launched a drive from about 35m out.
As the forwards gathered momentum, halfback and captain Ben Maxwell and winger Kane Dodds joined in, the Goats surging over the goalline with tsunami-like force for Clark to dot down.
That try took Cromwell out to 25-15 with eight minutes remaining and pretty much secured the title, although each side managed a try in the final frantic few minutes of play.
Cromwell thoroughly deserved its first championship success since 2016, completing the abbreviated competition undefeated and, in the process, scoring 62 tries in nine matches.
After taking possession of the Super Liquor Trophy, Maxwell paid tribute to his team.
“We wanted to claim every trophy we could [in 2020], and we managed it. I’m extremely proud of my players.
"Today’s game was everything a grand final should be,” he said.
The rugby gods did not smile on the Arrowtowners, who were seeking to repeat their 2019 triumph on the same ground.
First, blindside flanker Adam Hill, one of the team’s standout players throughout the season, strained his hamstring in the warm-up and observed the final gloomily from the sideline, the blindside flanker jersey passing to Piet Grandiek.
Then, while Kane Dodds, the competition’s leading points-scorer (and a former Arrowtown player) was knocking over goals from all directions for Cromwell, the Arrowtown kickers had a forlorn afternoon.
Connor Bissett and Jackson Wallace missed three close-range penalty attempts in the opening stages after Cromwell had scored a stunning early try set up by flanker Daniel Hurring and finished off by fullback Warwick Cheney.
Arrowtown enjoyed 70% of territory and 60% of possession in the first half, yet took 39 minutes to get on the board, and that included the 10 minutes when Goats centre Hayden Todd was in the sin bin.
Cromwell, which won the lineout battle and stood up strongly against Arrowtown’s much vaunted scrum, went ahead 20-8 in the 56th minute and appeared in charge.
But Arrowtown came back bravely to create a sweet try for centre Isi Nayaloga, his second of game, and close to 20-15.
That is how it stayed until Cromwell’s stunning rolling maul wrapped up the game and the title.
Cromwell’s coaches Matt Brierley and Matt Cunningham can take a bow, having developed a team with immense try-scoring potential and, when it mattered, with the power and skill to stand up against a battle-hardened combination like Arrowtown.
Cromwell’s player of the day in the final was Nth 8 Asi Serukalou while Arrowtown’s standout player was counterpart Pricee Imlach.
- Bob Howitt