LONG Flat Dragons ended an almost 10-year wait for a Hastings League premiership with a hard-fought 18-12 win over Laurieton Stingrays on Saturday.
Their last premiership success was back in 2009.
The Stingrays scored three tries to two, but it was the goal kicking of Dragons five-eighth Ethan McKenna that ultimately proved the difference.
McKenna landed five goals from six attempts, while Stingrays counterpart Will Ramsey missed with his three shots at goal.
Dragons coach Dennis Jones suffered grand final heartache in last year’s Group 3 reserve grade grand final.
“Last year at the Sharks we lost the grand final which kind of broke my heart a little bit,” Jones said.
“But I always knew I was going to come here and try and do something major like this.”
He went one better this season and in doing so, helped a club that was on its knees.
“They were nearly going to fold if I didn’t come this year so going from a folding side to a grand final side is unbelievable,” he said.
They were nearly going to fold if I didn’t come this year so going from a folding side to a grand final side is unbelievable.Long Flat Dragons coach Dennis Jones
Jones also ticked off a premiership win in his first season of coaching.
“I didn’t think I would win the grand final in my first year of coaching,” he said.
“What an achievement. I’ll take it with me for the rest of my life and if I’ve got another five more years in me I’ll go for another five more.
“This has been one of the best years of my life; we dug deep in defence and ground it out.”
Laurieton coach Brett Farnsworth admitted his side’s ill-discipline and mistake rate cruelled any chance of victory.
Centre Drew Bartlett was sent from the field in the 65th minute for dissent after he was originally sin-binned.
The Stingrays trailed 16-8 at the time and looked certain to score in the corner, before Bartlett was ruled to have been offside.
After he was sent for a 10-minute spell, he continued with his verbal lashing of the touch judge before then being given his marching orders.
“We tried hard and finished with 12 men; they deserve it and have been the best side all year so congratulations to them,” Farnsworth said.
“We dropped too much ball and (gave away a few) few fifth tackle penalties which was the story of our year.
“It’s a disappointing result naturally, but it’s good for the club to make it in the second year.”
The Stingrays trailed 8-0 at halftime in a first half that saw them camped on their own try line.
Only a determined run from Dragons interchange forward Scott Walmsley breached the gutsy Laurieton defence.
When centre Jesse Jones crossed early in the second stanza to extend the lead beyond two converted tries, it appeared to be a long way back.
But unconverted tries – to Stingrays fullback Ben Ramsey and winger Blake Hart – saw the Laurieton side close to 16-8.
McKenna added another penalty goal, before Hart crossed as the siren sounded.
“You can’t defend that much and come away with the win unfortunately,” Farnsworth said.
The coach conceded he would end his two-year rein with the Stingrays.
“Two years is enough for me; hopefully they get a captain-coach and a few other players next season and the club can kick on from there,” he said.