A delighted Ben Mowen celebrated his first premiership en route to retirement on the greatest weekend in Easts’ club history at Ballymore.
The former Wallabies skipper did more than pilot a clearcut 33-18 victory over the favoured University of Queensland in the Premier Rugby decider.
The victory completed an astonishing six-from-six sweep in the grand finals that the Tigers contested this season.
As the 35-year-old Mowen and his men held aloft the Hospital Cup, the raucous chorus of the club’s “Tigerland” song switched into a chant of “six from six...six from six.”
It has been a heady week for Easts from the late intercept try that delivered the club’s Colts 4 outfit an upset 11-10 grand final win last Thursday to Sunday’s tight 17-15 triumph for the women’s team.
“It’s not only a dream finish for me but for the club this season,” Mowen said excitedly.
“For us to win six-from-six, we are just ecstatic as a club.
“That’s a great reflection of the spirit at the club.”
The Tigers had many heroes because a 15-0 Uni surge in the first half had given the defending premiers a 15-7 lead.
The Tigers took charge with a vastly superior scrum led by front-rowers Rhys van Nek, the Tony Shaw Medallist as player of the grand final, Richie Asiata and George Francis.
Flanker Tom Milosevic’s non-stop work, No.8 Mowen’s polish on each play he was involved in, regular fullback Aidan Toua stepping up as an emergency five-eighth and ferocious defence were key strengths.
The grand final was still up in the air at half-time with Easts leading 19-15 before the play of the game swung momentum decisively.
Behind a strong scrum shunt, halfback Eli Pilz took off. He dummied twice and beat three defenders in a 30m dash before surging over through three tacklers.
The 26-15 lead squeezed the vice and tacklers like Milosevic and replacement hooker Zac Crothers kept it that way.
Mowen made his intentions clear from the start of the season that shooting for his first club premiership was the missing piece to his career despite it delivering stints at five professional clubs, 15 Tests for the Wallabies and the captaincy of his country.
Will he play on?
“I promised my wife (Lauren) nine times at lunch on grand final day that this would be my last game...in 2020,” Mowen said with a winner’s grin.
“I need a break so I won’t be playing next season but 2022...who knows?”
Uni coach Mick Heenan lamented “way too many unforced errors which allowed Easts to scrum which played to their strategy.”
Uni had standouts too. Fullback Jock Campbell made a sharp 30m run early and always looked dangerous. Lock Connor Vest, who shared the 2016 Shute Shield title with Norths in Sydney in 2016, was strong from the moment he burrowed over for Uni’s opening try.
Easts were 10-0 behind after five minutes when the same sides met in the major semi-final two weeks earlier but learnt big lessons from that 37-19 loss.
Their start was far more switched on. The grand final was just two minutes old when prop Francis powered over after the Tigers had been clinical in taking advantage of a muffed Uni lineout.
At the 27-minute mark, the Easts scrum powered ahead and earned a penalty. In the play that followed, Toua threw a pinpoint cutout ball, from a quick ruck set by Mowen, to put winger Shane Kennedy over.
Kennedy made it two tries from another longer Toua pass after Uni hooker Josh Nasser had overthrown at a lineout 5m out from his line.
Toua handled the game-control from No.10 with aplomb for coach Moses Rauluni after Jack Frampton withdrew during the week with a shoulder injury.
Major credit is due Rauluni, so passionate himself about the Tigers that he once snuck a game in for the club at halfback without his English club Saracens being aware.
"With Ben, it's been like having another coach on the field.
He helped make game plans and young guys have learned from him," Rauluni said.
Such was the dominance of the Easts’ scrum that referee Damon Murphy was forced to yellow card buckling Uni prop Alex Sa’aga at the hour mark.
The Tigers put the grand final beyond doubt with a penalty try after another 5m scrum march that had Mowen almost at the tryline when it was whistled.
Mowen may be riding off into the sunset with a celebratory beer in hand but he predicted big things for van Nek, the most aptly named prop in the country.
“A strong scrum wins finals and we’ve been building that since the start of the season,” Mowen said.
“I’ve no doubt Rhys, as a 21-year-old tighthead, has a big future in the game.”
EASTS 33 (S Kennedy 2, G Francis, E Pilz tries; pen try; E Pilz 3 con) defeated UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND 18 (C Vest, J Lenac tries; J Campbell con, 2 pen goal)
This article was originally published on RUGBY.com.au.