History was made when the Gordon Highlanders claimed their first premiership in 22 years during an emotion-charged, twenty-point win over Eastwood in the 2020 Shute Shield Grand Final at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
Gordon’s win completed a genuine sporting fairytale, in which the club went from perennial pushovers - conceding over 50 points per game in 2018 - to the toast of Sydney club rugby in just twenty-four months.
Embracing the mantra ‘Tartan Tough’ for the entirety of their 2020 campaign, the competition’s minor premiers entered the season decider facing a red-hot Eastwood side, following the Woods’ spectacular finals wins over Eastern and Northern Suburbs.
The clash saw 2020 Melbourne Rebels’ debutants, Lachie Anderson and Charlie Abel, face each other for the second time in four matches, with both players entering the last day of October in impressive form.
Opening against a strong Lilyfield wind, Eastwood stunned the heavy favourites in the eighth minute, when gangly lock, Tim Anstee, intercepted a loose ball from Brandon Quinn, bolting away for a spectacular 40-metre try.
Eastwood’s lead would be short lived, as three penalty goals from former Rebel and Moorabbin Rams centre, Rodney Iona, saw Gordon creep ahead, 9-5.
Despite holding a four-point lead, cause for concern remained, with the Highlanders seemingly unable to take full advantage of the strong first half breeze.
However, after an exhilarating counter attack by Quinn, a 37-minute Reece MacDonald try in the shadows of half-time provided some breathing space for the green and gold, with Gordon taking a handy 14-5 lead into the main break.
Ten minutes into the second half, a penalty right in front of the upright, handed the Woods a valuable three-points, closing the deficit to just six-points with over 30 minutes remaining.
Hammering Gordon at the ruck and dominating the lineouts a wave of momentum was suddenly behind the underdogs – not just the stiff Sydney breeze.
A 58th minute dash by Lachie Anderson, saw the Woods push to within five metres of their line, as Eastwood’s second try of the match seemed just around the corner.
However, an extraordinary tackle from one of the smallest players on the park, Reece MacDonald, on Eastwood’s hulking No.8, Pat Sio, saw Gordon deny a near-certain Eastwood try, as the minor premiers continued to weather Eastwood’s offensive storms by the barest of margins.
A yellow card to John Tagaloa, would further add to Gordon’s woes. However, the tense affair was turned on its head in the 70th minute, when fly-half, Rodney Iona backed his exceptional speed to cut open Eastwood’s defence, running over for Gordon’s second try of the game.
A successful conversion saw the Stags extend their lead to 13 points (21-8), with just ten minutes remaining.
After taking over the lineout throwing duties in the second-half, Charlie Abel hit Jack Dempsey in the 78th minute, before Gordon used their final rolling maul of 2020, to run over their third try of the Grand Final, and in the process, end a twenty-two-year premiership drought.
Speaking to the Rebels on Monday, Abel said making Shute Shield history alongside his brother Jacob, was one of the best moments of his career to date and something he will forever remember.
“It’s incredible, I almost can’t describe it,” said the 2020 Shute Shield premiership prop.
“Shute Shield is one of biggest competitions in Australia, so to win it - especially for Gordon after the last two years of hard work – it’s what you dream of.
“It was amazing winning it with Jacob who played today, and even with Robbie who is currently out injured.
“Playing together for the last two seasons down at Gordon has been something I will forever remember and appreciate.
“We knew we wanted to play together and win together, and we are blessed to do that at Gordon.”
Reflecting on his personal development during a sporting year unlike any other, Abel praised the support he’s received from the Melbourne Rebels, saying he’s forever grateful for the opportunity to be part of Super Rugby AU in 2020.
“I have always backed myself to work hard and get better and learn as much as I can every year.”
“This year I tried to focus on the finer details of my game - the little one percent things that don’t always get recognised, but that are very important.
“While I’m not one-hundred percent sure where I’ll be next season, I’ll be forever grateful to the Rebels for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of the team - I definitely learnt and developed a lot as a player and as person.
“I know the team will continue to do great things in the future and I can’t wait to see that happen.”
Despite grand final heartbreak, Eastwood’s outside centre, Lachie Anderson remained upbeat and grateful for the opportunity get to valuable game time under his belt in preparation for a big 2021 Super Rugby AU campaign.
“Being able to get back and play in the Shute Shield for my club Eastwood this year has been great,” said Anderson.
“Obviously with COVID-19 this year impacting sport all around the world, being able to get some rugby in on a week to week basis has been amazing and I believe has put me in great shape for the upcoming 2021 season.”