The Wellington Cowboys saved their best footy of the season when it mattered in 2019 and on Sunday the club's reserve grade side claimed the Group 11 premiership.
The Cowboys played sudden death footy all through the finals after finishing in fourth and held their nerve after a scoreless first half in the decider to down Dubbo CYMS 14-6 and earn a first reserve grade premiership since 1999.
The Cowboys did it the hard way too, having play with a man down for 10 minutes following Lewis Stanley's second half sin-binning, but a second try for CJ Ralph in the final minutes sealed the victory.
"This is unbelievable," Cowboys captain-coach Chris Ah See said.
"We played for our whole community and this has been a long time coming. It's been about 20 years since reserve grade won it.
"The last two minutes were a bit how you going but the crowd got us home."
The hoards of Cowboys fans on the hill at Apex Oval were banging on the fence and chanting as the clock counted down and they flooded the field when the final siren sounded.
Trent Forrest just played in his seventh grand final with the Wellington Cowboys and it’s his first title win.— Nick Guthrie (@Nj_Guthrie) September 8, 2019
Wellington’s first reserve grade premiership since 1999. Forrest likely to retire now after finally getting there. #Group11pic.twitter.com/ZcdPefCsUR
While it was joy for the Cowboys, the CYMS players were understandably shattered after missing the chance to earn a fourth successive reserve grade premiership.
"It's disappointing," captain Hewett Haycock said.
"It was a good game though and they were the better side. We made too many mistakes and gave away too many penalties and you can't do that."
CYMS, the minor premiers, was sloppy early on and didn't get into the opposition 20 in the opening 15 minutes of the first half.
But for all the ball the Cowboys had they couldn't make it count, through a mix of stout CYMS defence and some errors of their own.
The Cowboys kept creating the better of the chances and in the final seconds of the opening stanza it appeared they had the breakthrough.
Jeremy Thurston floated across to the left and an off-load put Les Boney in space with the line in front of him.
But he lost the ball as he went to plant it down and that signalled the end of the first half with things all square.
The Cowboys fans may have been frustrated in the first half but they were up on their feet immediately in the second, as a Thurston break put Ralph over in the corner to set-up a 4-0 lead.
CYMS soon began to finally work itself into the game and their chances improved vastly when the Cowboys' Lewis Stanley was sin-binned for a swinging arm on Fishies fullback Kaide Rapley after he'd made a break.
The minor premiers couldn't take advantage of the extra man immediately though and it was the Cowboys who scored the next try.
A failed intercept attempt from CYMS saw a loose ball and Norm West was on hand to plant it down.
CYMS hit back through Nick Karydis immediately after to get it back within two in the final 10 minutes, but Ralph's second sealed it.
It was a fine try as well, as Ralph trailed Kenny Everson as the prop made a burst and a neat offload sent the winger, in his first game back since injury midway through the season, on his way.
"Losing Lewis for 10 minutes, I think we lifted and we did the same at Parkes (in the elimination semi) when we lost a man but we did it," Ah See said.
Ah See also had plenty of praise for Ralph, who starred in first grade during the opening months of the season before an ankle injury had many not expecting to see him on the field again in 2019.
"CJ was supposed to be another month away," captain-coach Chris Ah See said.
"He got the call on Friday night because we were one short and Shannon Ireland had to work and CJ got the clearance and was ready to play.
"We were a bit worried about him but it was all good."
Ah See also paid tribute to Cowboys halfback Trent Forrest, who finally won a premiership with the club after playing in six losing grand finals previously.
- WELLINGTON COWBOYS 14 (CJ Ralph 2, Norm West tries; Lewis Stanley goal) defeated DUBBO CYMS 6 (Nick Karydis try, Brad Pickering goal)