Wellington Cowboys savour Group 11 premiership one year on

ONE YEAR ON: Justin Toomey-White with the silverware after his Wellington Cowboys won last year's grand final. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE
ONE YEAR ON: Justin Toomey-White with the silverware after his Wellington Cowboys won last year's grand final. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

The cancellation of the 2020 Group 11 season stopped Justin Toomey-White from leading the Wellington Cowboys' premiership defence.

He would have loved nothing more than to return to the field and despite the COVID-19 pandemic ruining any chance of that, there's one thing it will never take away from Toomey-White, his teammates, and so many others in the passionate Wellington community 12 months on from an unforgettable grand final win at Apex Oval.

"Just the pride in having that next to your name," Toomey-White said.

It was 12 months ago this week the Cowboys defeated Dubbo CYMS 19-10 in the decider, ending a 25-year premiership drought and sparking tremendous celebrations among the Wellington faithful.

"There's been some pretty good Wello teams since the last grand final (in 1994) that didn't get a premiership so it's a story to tell and a sense of pride," Toomey-White, the coach that day, added.

"It's stories that will not only be told this year and next, but years to come for our players, club, supporters, and town."

While the 2020 season was first delayed in March and then abandoned in June, the impact has barely felt as strong as it has this week.

With the weather warming up and the smell of freshly cut grass getting stronger it's the time of year when Toomey-White and so many others would be purely focused on finals football.

"It just doesn't feel like this time of year," Toomey-White said.

"So much of our lives revolves around community football.

"Me personally, I would have loved to be back on the paddock and getting a game. Being at the ground and competing, it just comes naturally."

For now, Wellington is focused on its under 18s side.

The young Cowboys have advanced to the finals of the Western Youth League and will clash with Group 10 powerhouse Bathurst St Pat's this coming weekend.

Toomey-White has run the water for the juniors at times while some other seniors have done their bit to help coach Graham Blackhall.

"And when the club has hosted games the supporters and volunteers have been there," Toomey-White added

"They put up their hand it just shows it's a great club. From the 18s through to first grade, we're one club and everyone helps out."

He might be running water for juniors now but 2020 was supposed to be the year Toomey-White returned to the playing field after his battle with cancer.

It was a battle he won and he was set for a Cowboys comeback while he had also been named to coach the Group 11 side in a revamped Indigenous All Stars game but that is all on hold until 2021 at the earliest.

The Cowboys were one of the Group 11 clubs firmly against playing any senior footy in 2020 and it's a choice they stand by.

Uncertainty remains about what a 2021 season will look like, with restrictions still in place for all community sport and the risk of another outbreak always in the back of people's minds.

But next year and the long-awaited title defence is already being spoken about among the Cowboys.

"Who knows what next year will look like," Toomey-White said.

"But it should be an awesome year and we're putting in place things to make it's a bigger and better 2021 season.

"But this year the priority was community support and ensuring everyone involved in rugby league was safe and healthy, that's the most important thing.

"There's always next year to run around the paddock again."