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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Leichhardt Lions clinch final for second year in a row

RHYS THOMAS

THE Leichhardt Lions have become back-to-back champions of the Football Queensland Premier League Far North Region after a 2-1 win over the Mareeba Bulls in their grand final over the weekend.

Both teams had a great run in the regular season with the Lions finishing third and the Bulls landing in second.

In the semi-finals the Bulls went up against Edge Hill when just a few weeks prior, they ended the Tigers’ season long winning streak.

This form carried through to the semi-final with Mareeba beating the Tigers 4-2, this marked the first time in five years since the Mareeba Bulls had made it to a grand final.

Leichhardt played their semi-final against the Innisfail Cutters and emerged victorious 4-1, they then had to win against the Tigers in a preliminary final for a chance in the grand final. They won 2-1 against the Tigers and the stage was set to face off against the Bulls.

Leichhardt Lions Premier Men’s coach Karl Bennett said despite having a rough start to the season, the team really pulled together towards the business end.

“We’ve had a fairly patchy season actually and we had kind of a big breakthrough win in the grand final last year over Edge Hill – that was the first time we had broken through,” he said.

“We started this year with a similar team, missing only couple of players and had a few new guys in.

“I was a little surprised with how long it took to gel and get going this season, we are playing differently than we were last year trying to suit with the players we have.”

Luckily enough the Lions managed to find their groove by the end of the season and had their experience shine through as they took the field against the Bulls at Endeavour Park.

The Bulls drew first blood by slotting the first goal roughly halfway through the first half however Leichhardt didn’t take it lying down and answered back just a few minutes before the break.

The two teams remained in this deadlock for most of the game before Leichhardt managed to sneak one through just before the final buzzer, signalling the end of the game and the end of Mareeba’s journey.

With an experienced line-up that had a taste of grand final football for the last two years, the Lions appeared to be better equipped for the game and were better acclimatised to the pressure.

Bulls Premier Men’s coach Kane Alderton said his team had been playing incredible football in the months leading up to the final and believes the gravity of the occasion possibly got the better of the young side.

“Obviously it was disappointing not to come away with a win but having some time to reflect after the loss I think the occasion got the better of us,” he said.

“I don’t think either team played their best, it was a pretty scrappy affair but sometimes you’ve got to know how to win ugly.”

Alderton described the support the team received in the weeks leading up to the game as “immense” and what you would expect from a small country town getting behind their local team.

“Whether that got to a few boys I don’t know but the support from the club, the community was sensational – the disappointing thing is that we couldn’t get over the line for them,” he said.

“We knew what we needed to do to win the grand final but we just couldn’t put it together on the night.”

Despite the disappointing result for Mareeba, Alderton believes the team has gained valuable experience and gotten a taste for finals football, an opportunity not many teams get.

As the Leichhardt Lions Premier Men came second last season and Edge Hill went on to become the FQPL Champions League winners, Leichhardt were given a chance to play in this year’s Champion League.

They beat Edge Hill in their first Champions League round and just after this year’s regular season ended, they won against the top Townsville team, giving them a chance at the regional champion title.

Now they travel down to Brisbane this weekend to play for the title against Wide Bay team Across The Waves and if victorious, they will then play the top metro team for the title of Queensland Champion.

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: International tourism set to boom and Locals support Cairns comedy.

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