A Jesse Albrett try eight and a half minutes into extra time lifted Howick to a dramatic 22-18 victory over Mt Albert in the 2019 SAS Fox Memorial premiership grand final at Mount Smart Stadium tonight.
The last 20 minutes were dramatic as Howick fought back from a 10-18 deficit to tie the game up and Mt Albert's Eiden Ackland came within inches of winning the game with a last-second penalty shot.
After both sides failed to capitalise on points-scoring opportunities in added time, Trent Bishop popped a basketball pass to the right edge from a few metres out – which was touched by a Mt Albert player on the way through – and Albrett scooped up the ball and scored to win a thrilling decider.
It is Howick's second Fox Memorial premiership title (with its previous win in 2011) and comes after it dominated the regular season and won the Rukutai Shield as minor premier.
Jethro Friend was a key figure in the win, scoring two dummy half tries on his way to winning the Doug Price Memorial Medal as man of the match.
The game was just eight minutes old when Friend opened the scoring, and off the back of that the Hornets dominated the next 15 minutes.
But the game changed when Liam Prendergast was sin-binned just before the half hour, with the playmaker ruled not to have been square at marker when he batted the ball away following a long-range break from Fonitika Lelenga.
Mt Albert took full advantage of the extra man, first scoring through Rory Ropati, before Ackland produced a clever one-on-one strip and raced away to score from 20 metres out.
Ackland converted both tries to give the Lions a 12-4 advantage, and added two more via a penalty right on the half-time whistle.
Five minutes into the second spell Friend crashed over for his second four-pointer of the night, and after Jesse Keven converted the gap was reduced to four points.
Keven was then denied a try of his own a short time later – with referee Anthony Eliott finding a knock on in the lead up – before Mt Albert struck again with 22 to go.
Trent Wallace looked to have struck a telling blow when he darted from 25 metres and found Darren Kellett-Moore looming in support but Howick hit back swiftly via Peter Oliveti.
Keven tied things up with a penalty five from time and then Ackland had his chance to win it on the siren, only to push his attempt just wide from 40 metres out.
After Howick squandered a handful of scoring chances in extra time, Bishop put Albrett away to win the game and the title.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Howick Hornets 22 (Jethro Friend 2, Peter Oliveti, Jesse Albrett tries; Jesse Keven 2 conversions, penalty).
Mt Albert Lions 18 (Rory Ropati, Eiden Ackland, Darren Kellett-Moore tries; Eiden Ackland 2 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 14-4 Mt Albert.