Big games inevitably come down to big moments and Collegians skipper Blake Phillips owned his in Sunday’s Illawarra League grand final.
The Dogs may well have thought their premiership bird had blown when Dapto flyer Rob Buaserau scooped up a loose ball and raced 60 metres to take a 14-12 lead with 20 minutes to play. Having surrendered a 12-0 lead, Collies could have folded on the momentum swing.
Instead, Phillips put his side on his back 11 minutes from fulltime and carried them, and several Dapto defenders, to the title. The solo try followed an earlier hit-back from Jordan Bowles, with the Dogs good enough to defend their 22-14 lead to the final siren.
“You wouldn’t expect anything else from Boofa [Phillips],” coach Nathan Fien said. “He’s just a legend, he leads the forward pack and is our man in the engine room. He never says die, he’s our leader and all the boys jumped on board and got it done. Momentum was probably against us going into halftime. We had to dig our way out of it in the second half but the character we’ve been able to build throughout the year was evident again.
“No matter what position we’re in, or whether we were behind, we always give ourselves the chance to get back and win those games. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Dogs looked slick early on with Kyle Eather opening the scoring off a deft inside ball from back-rower Haydn Peacock in the 10th minute.
Peacock was in the action again two minutes later, scooping up the bounce off a Jarrod Boyle bomb to take a 12-0 lead on the back of Grayson Goodwin's second successful conversion.
With the game starting to slip, the Canaries produced a strong hit back in the 22nd minute with Joel Reddy crossing untouched from a deft short-ball from Mick Murphy.
Josh Bryant’s try two minutes from the break cut the deficit to two and the Canaries led 14-12 on the back of Buaserau’s 60-metre effort in the 55th minute.
A barge-over effort from replacement back-rower Bowles re-took momentum for the Dogs before Phillips’ try 67th minute solo try sealed the deal and man of the match honours.
It was a second premiership for Phillips but his first with Collegians after spearheading their return to the finals last season.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Phillips said.
“Collegians been so welcoming to me and to be asked to captain the side this year and to lead them to a premiership is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
“At no point were we comfortable, I knew it would go down to the wire. It’s been tit for tat between us all year and they’re such a classy side all across the park.
“You can’t let your guard down for a minute and they showed that at the back-end of the first half. We had to weather the storm at the break but we were good enough to do so and come out on top. We just had to hang tough and grind it out and we did it.”
At no point were we comfortable, I knew it would go down to the wire