WALCHA has felt its share of pain when it comes to the finals but the only pain the Rams were feeling on Saturday was physical after locking in their first grand final berth this century.
Better still, they’ll host, it with the Rams 31-30 win over minor premiers Inverell sending the decider to Walcha for the first time in almost 20 years.
The estimates were about 1994 being the last time Walcha hosted the decider.
They haven’t been involved in one since 1997.
The jubilant scenes when the whistle eventually blew showed what it meant to the players.
Not just the history but the manor in which they won.
It was hard work and there for either side to win, but in the end the Rams defence and the way they continually denied the Highlanders close to the line got them home.
“It was a gutsy effort,” Rams coach Barry Hoy said.
Co-coach Andrew Crawford concurred.
“The way those boys played today showed the heart of the Walcha district,” Crawford said. “They stood up on their line and defended and defended, until the mistake was made, and we took advantage of it and scored.”
The try he was referring to was centre Ed Cordingly’s midway through the second half.
The Highlanders had been hammering away at Walcha’s line for near on 10 minutes, but they couldn’t find a way across with the Rams holding them up four times.
They tackled in numbers and just kept repelling the Highlanders drives, and eventually forced a turnover.
Simon Newton reefed the ball downfield into open space.
Highlanders fullback Nathan Barham made a mess of cleaning it up and after a scramble it fell to Cordingly and he raced away to score.
Newton’s conversion put the Rams up by 10 with just over a quarter of the game remaining.
It was the biggest lead either side had enjoyed in a see-sawing 60 minutes.
The visitors were the first to post points via Newton’s boot.
But the Rams put themselves under pressure with a bad pass from the kick-off and after a period of attack Highlanders skipper Luke Thom levelled the scores at 3-all.
He and Newton traded penalty goals before an attempted clearing kick from Newton was charged down by Cory Davis for the first try of the game.
Newton replied with another two penalties, and Thom also kicked one to keep the Highlanders ahead 16-12 at the break.
Crawford and Hoy were pretty happy with that, playing into the wind.
“We said we wanted to be with them or in front of them,” Crawford said.
They came out strongly in the second half, but again turned the ball over after multiple phases.
But from the scrum the Highlanders tried to be a bit to cute and put Thom under pressure and his clearing kick was charged down.
Dave Ryan picked up the spoils to put the Rams back in front.
After then going up 26-16 the Rams had to endure another period of attack from the Highlanders.
They eventually got over through Tala Vea and then hit the lead when the Rams tried a short kick from inside their 22.
It was intended for Richard Young but ended up in his Highlanders’ opposite Tevita Okati’s arms and he did the rest.
Then with only about five minutes remaining the Rams earned a lineout only metres from their line.
They rumbled it through the forwards a couple of times, and were almost pushed out, but managed to keep the ball in play and spread it wide to the right where they found Peter Young in space.
The conversion was unsuccessful but it didn’t matter.
It wasn’t the Rams most clinical performance. They put themselves under pressure with mistakes and couldn’t get their backs into the game as much as they would have liked.
“We couldn’t get any momentum,” Crawford said.
“Inverell did really well closing the midfield down fast.”
“When they had the ball it was hard for us to get it back. They just kept creeping up.”