WALCHA mightn’t have figured in the Central North grand final for more than a decade but the brains behind the Rams’ operation know a thing or two about playing in the decider and winning premierships.
Rams coaches Barry Hoy and Andrew Crawford were both part of what is considered Walcha’s golden era, and the last Rams side to win the first grade title.
The Rams have had to bide their time for another grand final opportunity.
It’s taken them 15 years but, in shades of their 1990 triumphs, both first and second grade have made it.
Hoy and Crawford both played that day and were there again in 1997 – the last time the Rams won the Heath Shield.
They lined up alongside each other, with Hoy playing five-eighth and Crawford at inside centre.
He was also stand-in captain that day and saw a few parallels between then and today’s match-up with three-times defending champions Pirates.
“I remember we were complete underdogs,” Crawford said.
“We had the Russians (props) but they were gone, and it was a little village playing a big town, the same as this time.”
They, again too, find themselves up against the defending premiers.
Back in 1997, Tamworth had won it the year before and had beaten the Rams soundly in the major semi-final.
“Everyone said we couldn’t do it,” Hoy said.
But they did, prevailing 33-20.
“It wasn’t dissimilar to the semi-final against Inverell,” he recalled. “We had to defend for long periods.”
He played in five grand finals with the Rams and said it was very satisfying to be there again.
“It’s something we’ve been striving for for a while,” he said.
The last couple of seasons they’ve probably had the nucleus but were just missing a couple of ingredients.
They’ve found them this year, with a bit more front-row depth and a genuine kicker in Simon Newton.
Newton has kicked them to a couple of victories this season, including one over Pirates down in Tamworth earlier in the season.
Pirates returned the favour when they met up at Walcha and the Rams will have to play a lot better than they did that day.
“They outplayed us and they outsmarted us,” Crawford said.
It was a lesson in what they can’t do against Pirates.
“When you don’t have the ball it’s hard to win. We didn’t have the ball that day,” Crawford said.
Part of that was because of penalties and Hoy said they would have to watch their discipline.
Their defence will also be critical, and ball security.
“When we’ve got it we’ve got to keep it,” he said.
They don’t want to be forced into defending their line for long periods like they were against Inverell.
Crawford said they would have to play 15-20 per cent better than they did against the Highlanders, and a lot more intelligently.
“We’ve got to play smarter football,” he said.
“We can’t get into bashing our way through Pirates.”
“They’ll come up here very structured and very clinical.”