GUNNEDAH ended its 36-year premiership drought at Walcha on Saturday but stretched it out for an extra 20 minutes.
After leading 17-nil at one stage, the Red Devils were forced to thrash it out in extra-time after Walcha prop Angus Burnell crashed over after the full-time siren to, with the conversion, tie scores up at 17-all.
As the two teams crossed over, the chant of “Let’s Go Walcha” started up, but it was the Red Devils that got going.
They picked up where they’d left off at half-time, scoring twice in the space of about a minute to blow the Rams away and eventually claim the silverware 32-17, and their first senior premiership since 1976.
Most of the side weren’t even born then.
Many of that 1976 side travelled up to Walcha to watch, including the successful coach from that year Bob Finnie.
They would have been pretty happy at half-time, with the Red Devils absorbing what the Rams threw at them and taking a 14-nil lead into the break.
That was a lot down to their defence, which was fantastic, coach Tim Walsh said.
“We hardly touched the ball in the first 20,” Walsh said.
“It was the worst we played all year but we scrambled through and got enough ball to get through and score two tries in the second 20.”
Virtually their first opportunity they scored, with second- rower Greg Campbell crossing.
“It showed how important it was to do all that defending,” Walsh said.
They then went 17-nil up early in the second half through a penalty to captain Malcolm Frend.
But from there things went awry as the Rams ran in three unanswered tries to win the second half 17-3.
Five-eighth Lachlan Fletcher got the first and when captain Chris Watts snuck over with just over 10 minutes remaining it was game on with the big home crowd really willing the Rams on.
“The crowd had a huge influence on that second half,” Walsh said.
He said the second half was probably their worst half of the year but they quickly regrouped and came out in extra time a different side.
“We got back to how we should have played,” Walsh said.
They were held up in the first couple of minutes. Then from the scrum they found some space out on the left and winger Paul McCarthy did the rest.
The birthday boy had a double minutes later after some great interplay, with the Red Devils spreading the ball left from the kick-off.
Frend then pushed their advantage beyond two tries with a penalty on half-time.
“As soon as we scored two tries in the first half (of extra-time) it took the crowd out of it,” Walsh said.
He said a lot of people had put a lot of effort into getting the Red Devils to where they were on Saturday and, while they didn’t play that well, their effort was fantastic.
Rams co-coach Angus Warden said the Red Devils deserved to win.
“They controlled a bit more of the ball,” Warden said.
They also made more of their opportunities.
“We were never able to utilise the ball (early) and put points on,” he said.
“We missed a couple of kicks, but they defended well.”
The two previous times they’d met the Red Devils had dominated them in the set pieces but that wasn’t the case on Saturday.
“We muscled up in the forwards,” Warden said.
“We pinched a bit of their lineout ball.”
They just couldn’t get their hands on the ball.
But like the Devils did in the first half, they turned things around in the second half.
“We just got a bit of a roll-on and got Gunnedah on the back foot,” Warden said.
One of their biggest problems in extra time was that they had used up all their reserves so they had no fresh legs to call on.