It wasn’t handed to them on a platter but the Western Rams are Andrew Johns Cup champions.
Kurt Hancock’s side, featuring Dubbo’s Noah Ryan, had to weather several barrages from the Illawarra Dragons who were gutsy from siren to siren.
“Every time we looked like we we going to kick away, they dug deep,” Hancock said.
“Even though we didn’t take a massive lead into half time, Illawarra were very tired at the end of the game from all the defending they had to do early.”
The Rams shot out of the gate with a Blake Martin try which looked like it could be the first of many for the men in green.
Fast forward 20 minutes and the Rams had a solitary try to show for their weight of possession and would soon be less satisfied after Illawarra’s Isaac Morris produced a miraculous one-on-one strip effort, going on to score under the sticks.
This saw the visitors square the ledger at 6-all with just over five minutes remaining in the half.
The match looked destined to enter the break locked up, before the Dragons failed to find touch, giving the Rams field position that would result in a Rylee Blackhall try.
Western picked up where it left off in the second half as Tyler Colley forced a repeat set before going coast to coast in his side’s ensuing possession, crashing over on the grandstand side of Glen Willow.
Noah Griffith added the extras, giving the Rams an 18-6 lead with 25 minutes to go.
It didn’t take long for Illawarra to strike back as skipper Jordan Morn crashed over, narrowing the gap to eight points after an unsuccessful conversion.
The match-sealing try would come with 13 minutes remaining as Melbourne Storm recruit Noah Griffiths sliced through a fragile Dragons defensive line, capping off a stellar performance and giving his side the gold.
Although Noah Griffiths is viewed as this side’s outright star, Wellington’s Rylee Blackhall quietly stole the show.
“I’ve had a couple of discussions about Rylee Blackhall,” Hancock said.
“Obviously Noah is tied up with the Melbourne Storm but I keep telling these people to stop talking to me about it and come out and talk to this kid.
“He’s pretty silky.”
WESTERN RAMS 22 (B Martin, R Blackhall, T Colley, N Griffiths tries; T Colley 2, N Griffiths 1 goals) def ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 10 (I Morris, Jordan Morn tries; I Morris 1 goals).