The tears in Luke Deaves eyes after he had courageously led Bundarra to a 22-14 upset grand final win over the Bulldogs at Barraba on Saturday were accompanied by pain-induced grimaces as he favoured his right arm as though he were nursing a baby.
It was hard to tell if he was crying because the plucky Bears had out-enthused their more fancied rivals and he was being buffeted by the great volume of emotion post-match. Or because he “hyper-extended” the arm tackling the biggest man on the field, Bulldogs skipper Tim Coombes, in the first minute of the match and it “felt like it snapped”. Probably a bit of both.
“It f****** hurts,” he said, and then he accepted more hugs – an act exposing him to potentially more pain but one he did not once reject, even when it was done with back-slapping enthusiasm.
The sight of the nuggety No.7 heavily favouring his wounded wing for the entire match as his mind conquered the matter of the severe discomfort was something that should be recalled for a long time.
Unsurprisingly, it was Deaves who scored the first try of the match, when he went himself about 10 metres out from Barraba’s line to cross next to the uprights. His brother, five-eighth Jake, converted, and Bundarra were on their way to winning their first premiership since 1995 when, coincidentally, they were an amalgam with Barraba called the Bulldogs.
After the 1996 season, Bundarra disappeared as a club for two decades, before re-emerging in 2016 as the Bears. After suffering a form wobble, they scraped into the top four by winning their last regular-season match, and then beat the three teams above them on the ladder in the finals – Bendemeer, Kootingal-Moonbi and Barraba. They snapped the Bulldogs’ 13-match winning sequence.
Deaves said: “Words can’t explain what these boys mean to me. We were stuffed six weeks ago. I did not see us standing here. We all got together at training and sort of got close again and started putting a bit of footy together at the right time of the year. Everything just click.
“I knew if we just come out and just play the footy we play, sort of get at the edges and target the big blokes and play tough, we’d come out with it, we’d come out with it. I don’t know what to say. I’ve got so much going through my head.”
After Deaves’ try, Barraba hit back quickly when influential right centre Beau White – a highly physical player whose acute intensity means he leaves nothing on the field – bumped off Bundarra centre Terry Lea inside the Bears’ 20m zone to crash over out wide.
The Bulldogs’ left centre Zac Mallise then scored from close range to make it 8-6, before Bears hooker Brad Waters went himself inside Barraba’s 10m zone to cross next to the uprights. Jake Deaves’ conversion made it 12-8 to Bundarra.
Bundarra were now riding the momentum, and centre Sam Waller posted their third try after the Bears had a scrum feed about 10m out from Barraba’s tryline and attacked the right edge. Deaves converted and it was 18-8 at half-time.
Bulldogs prop Jock Mallise, a shearer like brother Zac, barged over early in the second half and halfback Kris Halloran added the extras to make it 18-14.
The match-sealer was the best try of the game – a sweeping backline movement finished off by winger Jordan Beveridge in the right corner in front of stunned Barraba fans.
Veteran Bears lock Nick Dawson, in his last game of football, was named man of the match.
His father, John, a member of the 1995 Bundarra-Barraba premiership side, was there to congratulate him.
In the earlier ladies league tag final, Kootingal-Moonbi posted their third straight grand final win over Uralla, winning 6-0.