The draw gifted the Sharks the title of Premiers for 2008 in a game that never reached dizzying heights in-front of an almost jam-packed stadium inhabited by arguably the two best sets of fans in the competition.
Early tension was obvious as a chess game unfolded in the centre of the pitch and it wasn?t until the 17? minute that a Jim Bakis free-kick had the home crowd on their feet when narrowly missing the angle of bar and post to the left of goalkeeper Michael Turnbull in the Wolves goal.
David Reid managed to find himself in the book moments later, possibly for handball or dissent, that let the Wolves enjoy their best moment of the half when another free-kick was headed off the line by Michael Katz as the match slowly sparked into life.
Danial Cummins was shown yellow for a badly timed tackle on Bakis after 26? minutes, something he would later regret, which saw yet another free-kick floated into the box. Brad Boardman, going into the match as the League?s top scorer, flicked the ball on for Neil Jablonski who, for such a big man, neatly attempted a bicycle kick that flashed narrowly over the bar.
Wolves were not taking this lying down and an inspirational moment almost brought them the lead but for Phillip Zabaks? alertness on the line as Ilija Prenzoski tried an audacious lob with his back to goal from 20-yards out.
The half-chances being created by both contestants were being squandered as quickly as they were created with both Nick Stavroulakis (Sharks) and Mitchell Long (Wolves) missing out when at full stretch.
The pivotal moment of the half came when David Reid slid the ball to Boardman who neatly played in David Huxley, playing against his former club with which he won two NSL Grand Finals in the 90?s, thundered a shot through a crowded defence and beyond the despairing dive of Turnbull to give the Sharks a late lead going into the break.
It was almost two when Michael Robinson almost connected with the ball on the goal-line that only needed a touch that he was unable to make. Long could thank his lucky stars he was not shown red in the immediate off-the-ball incident where he appeared to lash out at Robinson on the ground but was deemed a ?shove? as play carried on.
Sutherland started brightly in the second period but their endeavor produced naught as the Wolves dragged themselves back up off the canvas in coming close to the equaliser when Tynan Diaz put the ball into the mixer with no support player able to make contact as it bobbled around the box before finally being cleared beyond the halfway line as the Sharks defence began to look a little rattled.
What happened next proved the pivotal moment of the game as an innocuous looking challenge between Wolves? Balla Conde and Sharks skipper George Souris saw the latter immediately signal the bench for treatment as he lay writhing on the ground and no-one was in any doubt that this was a very serious injury as he was eventually carried from the pitch.
Matthew Hall came on for Souris with the armband going to Huxley but it was clear the setback had unsettled the Sharks and they duly conceded when Conde set Long free and his shot, again from outside the box, rippled the home net to send the hordes of traveling support into a frenzy.
They started the day level on points and only a win would see the Wolves take out the title of Premiers for 2008 after a gallant end of season run saw them overhaul many sides to join Sutherland at the top again showing their battling qualities.
An altercation between Matthew Hall and Danial Cummins saw the Wolves hardman receive a caution and the latter sent from the field in a moment best described as frustration rearing its head as the disruption caused may have been the final nail in the Wolves? coffin on the day.
It turned out that this wasn?t their day, it simply wasn?t to be.
On another sour note for Wollongong, Michael West suffered a ruptured spleen which is sure to keep him out of action for possibly the rest of the season.
They fought, they scrapped and they gave it their best shot but the Sharks regrouped and eventually ran down the remaining minutes in a performance that no side deserved to lose; though that would come as little comfort to the Illawarra team.
The final result sees Sutherland crowned as the 2008 TeleChoice Premier League Champions at the end of a game many see as the forerunner of the Grand Final itself, although several other teams will beg to differ that point.
David Huxley, as the stand-in skipper after the demise of George Souris who was taken immediately to Sutherland Hospital for x-rays, received the trophy in-front of the thousands of fans inside the ground but even he would admit that it was a slightly more hollow moment than one would expect as his thoughts turned to his mate who was sadly missing.
Even in defeat, the gallant players from Wollongong received a standing ovation for their part in an entertaining match and the efforts they had shown as they sportingly stayed on the ground to applaud the Sharks in their moment of celebration.
Wolves? Justin Pasfield said afterwards:
?Football is a cruel game and the result right now is devastating.
?We did well to get ourselves into the position of being able to challenge for the title after being written off with a few weeks to go and we?ve really bonded as a team during that time.
?We?ll have a few beers tonight and then concentrate on the finals, the season isn?t over yet and we have the character to go on and give the Grand Final a shake.
?Well played to Sutherland, they?ve been magnificent this season.?
Brian Brown was as ever the laid back coach for the Sharks but even he showed the odd sign of the tension surrounding the match when adding:
?The injury to George unsettled the side as he has been a rock at the back for us this season and of course we then conceded the goal.
?It wasn?t just this game that has got us the trophy but I do put it down to the attitude of my players when we have been down and out in games this season but have clawed our way back and taken the points.
?We have had to hang in there for some games but my guys have been outstanding not just this afternoon but also during the previous 21-weeks and I have to take my hat off to them, they deserve this victory,,, even though today was a draw,? he added smiling.
Sutherland Sharks 1 (David Huxley 40?)
Wollongong Wolves 1 (Mitchell Long 63?)
Venue: Seymour Shaw park
Referee: Strebre Delovski
Assistant Referees: Murray Wilson, Scott Edeling
Fourth Official: Adam Weir
Sutherland Sharks: 99. Phillip Zabaks; 15. Michael Katz, 2. George Souris (10. Matthew Hall 57?), 38. Michael Robinson, 8. David Huxley, 39. Neil Jablonski, 7. Jim Bakis, 4. Pedj Bojic, 22. David Reid, 14. Nick Stavroulakis, 9. Brad Boardman (20. James Lawrence 81?)
Substitutes Not Used: 21. Matt Brandalise, 37. Jim Nikas, 6. Shane Lyons
Yellow Cards: David Reid 22?, David Huxley 43?, Pedj Bojic 61?, Matthew Hall 90?
Red Cards: Nil
Wollongong FC: 20. Michael Turnbull; 5. Steven Hayes, 6. Ilija Prenzoski, 7. Michael Hawrysuik (4. Michael West 86?), 8. Mitchell Long, 10. Balla Conde (15. Samet Haynak 81?), 12. Chris Price, 13. Tynan Diaz, 14. Dan Cummins, 17. Ben Blake, 19. Matt Bailey
Substitutes Not Used: 2. Alfredo Esteves, 16. Ilarouna Michael, 1. Justin Pasfield
Yellow Cards: Danial Cummins 26?, Steven Hayes 90?
Red Cards: Danial Cummins 90?
3 ? Neil Jablonski (SS)
2 ? Nick Stavroulakis (SS)
1 ? David Huxley (SS)
-By Micky Brock