The Canterbury Bulls led the national rugby league final with just seconds to go but came second to Mt Albert at Ericsson Stadium yesterday.
"It's tough to lose any final but to lose like that - we just needed to complete one more set," said beaten Bulls captain Shane Beyers.
They were up 22-20 in the dying stages of this Bartercard Cup grandfinal, after squandering a 22-16 lead with some silly and bad errors and lost 22-24.
The Lions showed their class in maintaining composure, lifting their effort late in the game but not pushing too hard.
Captain Steve Buckingham kicked a penalty, then put wing Patrick Ah Van into a hole for his second try.
But then Buckingham, who had entered the game carrying an injury, was carried off holding his left knee and with two minutes to go it looked like they were not going to get a last throw of the dice.
With three seconds left, halfback Bernard Perenara shuffled to the Bulls' defensive line and held up his pass for second rower Fabian Souter, who scrambled under the tacklers.
Referee Glen Black checked with his touch judges before handing the game to the defending champions, the Bulls slunk to the turf.
What was the Lions' plan in the last seconds?
"Get the ball to Bernard," coach Brian McClennan said.
"He was outstanding for us all day."
With Buckingham clearly not at his best, Perenara stepped up.
Lions prop Phil Shead, the biggest man on the field today, won the Ken Stirling award for player of the final. But it must have been close because there were several contenders and not all were from Mt Albert.
The Bulls were too ill-disciplined in the first half, their mistakes and penalties keeping the Lions in the game. They bombed three tries, two through forward passes and another with a knock-down.
At the break Canterbury had made nearly 50 tackles more than Mt Albert and were down 8-10.
When the Lions turned to take the 40-knot gale blowing down the ground they looked a good bet to clear away.
Canterbury were first to score when the powerful Pati burst over and it was Pati who made the break to send Alex Timo in to score mid-half.
And when O'Brien delivered a pin-point kick that bounced well to send Lucas Tamakaha in untouched just two minutes later, the lead looked too big to cut back.
Lions Centre Paul Fisiahi scored and Buckingham kicked a penalty.
With nine minutes left, the Bulls still held a six-point lead.
But then they were contained to just 30 metres gain off their line and they followed that with a kick out on the full.
From the next play, Buckingham sent Ah Van away and as measure of the input from both teams, Ah Van cramped up as he scored as did two Bulls chasers.
Buckingham needed to convert the try to make it 22-22. But he missed. Then he went off.
Up stepped Perenara and Souter.
"I need a beer after that," McClennan said.
They had put pressure on themselves with dropped ball and Buckingham had not been able to use the wind to dominate as they'd hoped in the second half.
"It's hard to believe. All we had to do was hold the ball and get out of our territory. But you can't take it away from them, they played hard," Beyers said.
BARTERCARD CUP COMPETITION � GRAND FINAL RESULT
Sunday 18 September 2005
Canterbury Bulls vs Mt Albert Lions Ericsson Stadium No.1, Auckland
Mt Albert Lions 24 R. Baxter, P. Fisi�iahi, F. Souter, P. Ah Van (2) : Tries S. Buckingham (2) : Goals
Canterbury Bulls 22 D. Metcalf, J. O�Brien, C. Lawrie, T. Pelenise : Tries J. O�Brien (3) : Goals
Halftime Score: 10 � 8 To Mt Albert Lions
Ken Stirling Player Of The Match � Phil Shead (Mt Albert Lions)