For pole-sitters Waters and Stanaway, the 2017 race was a matter of staying true to their expectations, having shown strong race pace in the early stages despite Paul Dumbrell jumping the #6 in the pits.
Stanaway retook the lead when Dumbrell suffered a right-rear tyre failure on lap 35. Once the Kiwi completed his minimum 54 laps, Waters took over and steadied the ship.
However, McLaughlin's co-driver Alex Premat put in two smart stints to be less than three seconds behind Stanaway when the driver changes occurred.
A fresh McLaughlin was hungry to claim a maiden win at Sandown, and when Waters stopped for a third and final time on lap 87, the race was on.
A 40-minute dash to the end saw McLaughlin stalk the #6 at every turn, but as the clock wound down, the Prodrive Racing Australia garage became increasingly confident that Waters could do the job.
That he did, with the Mildura-born driver clinging on to end his wait for victory, 18 months after his full-time debut. It vindicated his talent, with Waters claiming the Super2 crown in 2015.
Several rivals fell by the wayside on the day, with van Gisbergen set for a podium finish before he was hit by a front-right tyre failure on lap 106, consigning him to an eventual 16th place finish.
That enabled Chaz Mostert to seal third, and a podium sweep for Ford.
Tander, who moved to Garry Rogers Motorsport in the off-season, continued his affinity with Sandown with a brilliant fourth.
At age 23, Waters had climbed the summit, and nearly pinched a Bathurst victory alongside Stanaway a few weeks later after leading the most laps in the 2017 Great Race.
"I don't know what to say, I'm so pumped. I didn't think I was going to keep [McLaughlin] off," he said after the race.
"Scotty, I don't know if he used his tyre up in that last stint a bit, but I managed to hold the gap and we won.
"I'm so pumped for the guys, they've put massive hours in, pushing the upgrades through.
"[Stanaway] did a bloody mega job, got me the lead and I managed to hold onto it."
It was the first endurance success for Ford in seven races, with the Falcon last winning an enduro at the same venue through Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen in 2015.
Last year, after breaking through at Tailem Bend, Waters reflected on the enormity of the Sandown win.
"Sandown was a long time ago," he said.
"I think the Sandown win was still very special... obviously my first race win at Sandown, it's a pretty big event, so it was pretty special.
"But [yesterday] was awesome to be back in the winners' circle and to do it on my own was quite cool.
"I feel like it has been a long time coming, I've had a lot of pace this year and got a heap of podiums but just hadn't strung it together yet.
"So finally good to get that monkey off the shoulders... I guess I remember how to win a race again."
Waters will commence his bid for a maiden Supercars title at the Repco Mt Panorama 500 later this month. Tickets are on sale now.