A huge grin enveloped the face of Napier Old Boys Marist premier club rugby lock Tyler Symon-Burke as he watched his captain Matt Gardner receive the Maddison Trophy at Napier's McLean Park on Saturday.
"You can't get anything better than that. We came from behind to take it and that's what finals footy is all about. Once we drew even belief set in," Symon-Burke said after WIT Napier Old Boys Marist beat Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports 43-24 in a dramatic final which required 20 minutes of extra time in front of 5500 fans.
"We dug deep to tie the score at 24-all during regulation time and in extra time all our fitness work and the motivation to win for our family paid off," Symon-Burke explained.
The 21-year-old builder's labourer scored the first of the Green Machine's three unanswered tries during extra time. Symon-Burke played his first season with NOBM last year after transferring from Havelock North and played in the Tui Maddison Trophy final loss against Clive.
"Winning the trophy back is the ideal send off," Symon-Burke added referring to the fact he and winger Mitch Drew will leave for Canada next month for a playing stint with the Westshore club before returning to the Bay in May.
For Napier Old Boys Marist it was their third title in four years.
Ten of their squad played in the 2016 win and the experience and composure of the side was evident as they clawed their way back from a 24-10 deficit 20 minutes into the second half and the fact they were down to 13 players for a short period when props Lee Moleili and Chris Benson were sin binned added to the significance of their feat.
Hastings Rugby and Sports were guilty of playing too narrow throughout the match. Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava made a huge difference when he took the field as a second half replacement and scored two tries within 10 minutes.
There's no doubt Hastings would have done better if they had started Fakatava.
NOBM head coach Craig Gowler agreed Saturday's display was the best of the three title-winning sides he had coached.
"Our superior fitness levels and skillset proved the difference. We were making good decisions and had the clarity required."
"It was definitely the best opposition we faced in our three winning finals and I hope Hastings celebrate because they deserve to," Gowler said.
"Our team is bonded by family and I'm proud of the way we have fought back after a tough 12 months," he said referring to their final loss to Clive last year and then losing the Nash Cup earlier this season.
When asked if he will be back for a seventh season at the helm next year Gowler replied:
"Probably because I just love it. But Jodi [his wife] will have the final say and she gives me massive support."
Hastings captain and prop Jason Long said his troops switched off with a minute remaining in regulation time and didn't start well enough.
"I thought we were good enough to win it. This loss will make us more determined for next year and I'm pretty sure all of us will be back," Long added.
Later on Saturday night Long, the national superstock champion, won the superstock driver-of-the-year award at Speedway New Zealand's annual awards function in Auckland.
Hastings manager James Rosenberg pointed out it was only a couple of small things which let his team down in their first final appearance since 2012.
"We might have done better had we started Folau but at the same time we were looking for better impact from a couple of our other subs which we didn't get."
One fan remarked Hastings could have done better if they put a jersey on the spectator who ran off with the trophy in the 70th minute and had to be apprehended by Rosenberg before returning the trophy.
In the curtain raiser, the Pat Ryan Memorial Trophy colts final, Taradale Rugby and Sports pipped Hastings Rugby and Sports 22-18. Taradale appeared to be well in control with a 22-8 lead after 41 minutes.
However, Hastings Rugby and Sports fought back well and with the assistance of a 16-1 second half penalty count in their favour contributed to a thrilling final nine minutes.
Powerful No 8 Majella Tufuga, lock Kyaan Tawhai and flanker Morgan Bestford were prominent in the winning pack.
Captain and fullback Luke Johnson and Caleb Harmer, who had stints on the wing and at halfback were classy in the Taradale backline. Captain and second five-eighth Finn Fairbrother and No 8 Billy Crosswell were the pick of the Hastings players.
Other finals saw MAC beat Taradale Rugby and Sports 30-23 in the premier reserve grade clash at Flaxmere Park and Taradale Rugby and Sports beat Hastings Rugby and Sports 23-10 at Elwood Park.