Wollongong Lions win back-to-back AFL South Coast premierships

They were battered early, their structures stretched. 

Party time: Lions players celebrate after singing the team song at North Dalton Park on Saturday. Picture: Adam McLean

Party time: Lions players celebrate after singing the team song at North Dalton Park on Saturday. Picture: Adam McLean

But premiers Wollongong Lions remained unbroken.

Trailing by 15 points at quarter-time – having lost to them on their past three meetings this year and after Kiama had already marched a 92-point victory in reserve grade – it started to seem like the Lions were becoming powerless to stop the surge. 

Coach Ray Burgess could only praise what he declared as their best half of their season, as the Lions turned a deficit into a 11.7 (73) to 8.10 (58) triumph to claim back-to-back premierships at North Dalton Park on Sunday. 

“Under pressure like that and they’re a really good side,” he said.

“It’s the best half for the year, yeah.”

It was game on moments after half-time when the Lions kicked a goal to reduce the margin to four points. 

But the Power responded within a minute and then steadied with a breeze still blowing to the southern end they were kicking to, in the third term. 

Despite threatening to take control, the Lions were still 12 points down at the final change. 

And then – with the conviction which never materialised during the epic arm-wrestle which resulted in a one-point victory over bitter rivals the Bulldogs last year – the Lions dominated the last term. 

Not just on the scoreboard, but in their ability to control the tempo of the game in the final 10 minutes, when their lead shifted beyond two goals. 

“We did it well,” Burgess said. “We took some crucial grabs, we went down the line, we thought we would get them in contested footy.

“The way we organised that is a real credit to the boys.”

Dale Carter, for his ability to run and carry, break a line and generally be busy, was a worthy best-on-ground. 

Experienced forward Ken Ewen-Chappell, the efficient Will Cook and retiring 2016 premiership captain Josh Tier were also among their best. The Power claimed the minor premiership, as well as the reserve grade flag and took the most direct approach to the decider by beating the Lions along the way. 

Even without the premiership they craved, Kiama’s AFL South Coast resurgence is complete and will continue, given the amount of depth at the club. 

But the big moments, which went their way at Figtree Oval in the major semi-final, turned to the Lions, who were full of determination on a summery afternoon at the end of a long winter. 

Full forward Alex Cotter kicked three on his return from a cheekbone fracture suffered in the last round. 

With 90 seconds remaining, even though the game was in their keeping, Burgess sent out the message to keep their cool. With 30 seconds left, he walked around the boundary line to shake hands with representative coaching colleague and rival Rod Richards. 

“We had to play for 100 minutes and be professional and we did that,” Burgess said.