WANDERERS have won the Mid-West Rugby League title, defeating Normanton 40-34 in one of the most exciting grand finals in recent memory.
Both sides had chances to win the match, but the Mount Isa-based players held their nerves to seal the victory at Alec Inch Oval on Saturday night.
Wanderers coach Alan Baillie credited the determination of his players to overcome adversity throughout the match.
“Mesu [Taukei] had to get taken to hospital [with a broken jaw] early in the first half, and halfback Ryan Cassidy hurt his ankle,” Baillie said.
“We played the second half without both of them, which shows the fight the boys have in them.”
After jumping to a dream start, leading 12-nil after six minutes, Wanderers allowed their opponents to get back into the game.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start, as Mesu [Taukei] scored off the kick-off, but our intensity dropped a little once we got a lead,” Baillie said.
“To our credit, we responded numerous times when we fell behind in the second half.
“The boys weren’t going to let this opportunity slip away again after losing last year’s grand final.”
Captain Anton Saltmere stood up for the Wanderers, especially when key halfback Ryan Cassidy was forced from the field.
“Anton always leads us from the front, and Saturday was no different,” Baillie said.
“He always puts his hand up to make a crucial tackle or take a hit-up when needed, but he also made several key plays.
“He had a hand in a lot of our tries tonight, highlighting how important he is to our side.
“We have won three premierships together now - in 2007, 2009 and 2014 - which is an exceptional record in my opinion.”
Baillie also praised the efforts of second rowers Matty MacNamara and Terry Cook, who both played the full 80 minutes.
“Both Matty and Terry aren’t the biggest blokes physically, but their hearts are huge and that showed by the way they aimed up all day,” Baillie said.
“My five-eighth Clargie Saltmere also showed plenty of heart, continuously attempting to tackle their big front-row forwards.
“This energy wore off on the rest of the team and pumped them up.”
Baillie said the victory was well deserved after the side proved its strength all year.
“We were the best side during the regular season, claiming the minor premiership, and thankfully we have claimed the big prize too,” he said.
“The club has come a long way in the past two years since Matt Watts has taken over as the president.
“Especially with it being such an emotional year for us, it was important to not let the occasion get the better of us.”
Baillie praised the officials’ performance in the match, letting the two sides decide the outcome of the decider.
“It was great to see the referees take a step back and let the boys just play, deciding on their own terms who should win,” he said.
The tightness of the match was epitomised as Normanton lock Kurtis Ritchie was awarded man of the match, in a losing effort.
■Wanderers Team: 1. Darryl Avery, 2. Mesu Taukei, 3. James Sturt, 4. Corey Carlson, 5. Matt Toby, 6. Clargie Saltmere, 7. Ryan Cassidy, 8. Al Weller, 9. John Ellis, 10. Tana Gee Gee, 11. Matty MacNamara, 12. Terry Cook, 13. Anton Saltmere, 16. Donald Simmons, 17. Cody Saltmere, 18. Eddy Wong, 19. Herbie Walden, 20. Jason Morice, 21. Shane Kutz, 22. Madison Banibal
■Normanton Team: 1. Andrew Crinland, 2. Myron Toby, 3. Phillip Harrison, 4. Russell Smerdon, 5. Joshua Grieves, 6. Glendon Connelly, 7. Travis Fraser, 8. Clayton Davidson, 9. Wade Richardson, 10. Shannon Aplin, 11. Les Henry, 12. Sorren Owens, 13. Kurtis Ritchie, 14. Jesse McPherson, 15. Willis Walden, 16. Donavon George, 17. Morgan Richardson, 19. Aaron Jacobs, 22. Troy Logan