Desperate defence, quality midfield playmakers – not least player/coach Mark Barnes and Bev Risman Medal winner, loose forward Ben Moriarty – enabled West London to finally claim the Harry Jepson trophy, at the third time of asking.
In a compelling, no quarters given clash, two tries in six minutes late on saw the Sharks lift the silverware after disappointments in 2004 and again last year at the same venue.
This time, with hooker Josh Aomarere also to the fore, Wests could not be denied against a Bears outfit that had the greater pace but were undone by the sinbinning of former Ireland international Alan Robinson in the 69th minute.
Coventry could not have had a better start, Nathan Tilsley’s chip in the opening minute taking a wicked bounce, leading scorer Tanaka Chamunokara gathering and having too much pace and power on the outside for the chasers, touching down in the corner for an unconverted try.
Dan Baker and Sam Montague swapped clearing runs of note as the early tempo and intensity showed no sign of lessening.
Barnes looked to have sent Baker over in the 17th minute but he spilt the ball with the line open, and Baker was again denied when Aomarere’s pass was deemed forward.
Karl Wesley intercepted a Barnes pass and shot clear but the former Parramatta scrum half tacked back brilliantly to bring him down with a superb ankle grab.
Alistair Marshall’s grubber forced Graham Robbinngs to concede a drop out and, as the Bears threatened, Tilsley’s long pass found Robinson in space but his ball for Ben Hands found only the touchline.
Barnes’ kick into space on the last tackle saw the Bears scramble the ball dead, and from the drop out and a subsequent penalty, Aomarere sent in Gerald Dolan only for the try to be disallowed for a double movement.
On the half hour, both sides lost players to the sin bin, Wests Mark Hyndman the first for a late challenge on Tilsley after he had kicked – Matt Cooper being held just short from the resulting penalty – and then Montague was despatched when kicking out after a tackle when in possession.
The grit the Sharks showed to keep their line in tact paid off with two tries in the run up to half time, their momentum set by a huge hit from Dolan on Simon Stubbs.
Moriarty’s offload set the position for Peter Scotney to have a run and as the ball was switched back to the right, Aomarere’s well timed pass sent Baker over out wide.
Barnes’ pass in midfield put Dolan into a hole but Tilsley pulled off a try saver and Mark Challis got across to thwart Tom Howden.
Sharks would not be denied though, and in the closing minute of the half, Barnes, Aomarere and Rob McLean combined, Moriarty put out a wonderful round the man pass and JP Byrnes sent in Pete Madigan, Jamie Boston goaling to make it 10-4 at the break.
Chamunokara’s weaving run set the Bears on their way at the start of the second period, Marshall then kicking from the base of the scrum for the speedy winger, the bounce just beating him in to touch.
Wests extended their lead on a power play in the 48th minute, McLean and Barnes the instigators, Hyndman’s offload seeing Robbings – one of only two to play in all three Grand Finals for the Sharks – over in the corner.
Boston’s conversion attempt hit the post to leave the men from the capital ten points up but the Bears then enjoyed a dominant spell.
Cooper’s offload freed Matt Allsop and Wesley knocked on in a promising position, Ben Hands denied by a forward pass.
Just before the hour, Allsop and Tilsley found Robinson and his soft hands sent last year’s RLC ‘Young Player of the Year’ Cooper on a superb curving run to the whitewash, Tilsley gaoling from out wide to make it 14-10.
Having got so close, Bears’ discipline let them down, Allsop pulled out for a punch but Boston missed the penalty attempt from 30 metres out.
When Robinson repeated the indiscretion, he was sin binned and Wests chose to run the penalty this time, McLean’s short pass sending in Robbie Mackenzie in the 71st minute.
Victory was assured when Moriarty, Aomarere and Barnes sent Boston over but the match was topped and tailed when Zimbabwean Chamunokara who went over out wide for the defiant Bears in the final play.
GAME BREAKER – Alan Robinson’s 69th minute sin binning – Wests scored a try from the resulting penalty and again while he was still off to secure the trophy.
GAME STAR – Wests loose forward Ben Moriarty was class throughout, although he was run close by irrepressible Mark Barnes.
1 Sam Montague
2 Tanaka Chamunokara
4 Ben Hands
3 Brad Massey
5 Stuart Lee
6 Alistair Marshall
7 Nathan Tilsley
8 Ryan Jenkins
9 Matt Allsopp
10 Aron Jarvis
11 Karl Wesley
12 Jon Nichols
13 Matt Cooper
Subs (all used)
14 Ben Povis
23 Alan Robinson
16 Simon Stubbs
17 Mark Challis
Tries: Chamunokara (2, 29), Cooper (59)
Goals: Tilsley 1/2
3 Stephen Forbes
2 Peter Scotney
4 Pete Madigan
1 Dan Baker
5 Graham Robbings
6 Rob McLean
7 Mark Barnes
8 David Madigan
9 Josh Aomarere
10 Lawrence Ross
11 JP Byrnes
12 Mark Hyndman
13 Ben Moriarty
Subs (all used)
19 Gerald Dolan
17 Jamie Boston
16 Robbie Mackenzie
18 Tom Howden
Tries: Baker (36), P. Madigan (39), Robbings (48), Mackenzie (71), Boston (77)
Goals: Boston 2/5
Men of the match: BEARS – Matt Cooper SHARKS – Ben Moriarty
Half time: Bears 4 Sharks 10
Referee: Darren Hayes