The Mudgee Dragons became the first team to win a Group 10 premier league title from fifth in almost two decades after downing Orange CYMS 14-10 at Wade Park on Sunday, thanks to a magical, last-gasp try from glittering centre Rota Setu.
With 22 seconds left on the clock and the scores locked at 10-10, Mudgee halfback Tim Condon chipped cross-field from about the halfway mark and found winger Nathan Orr, who drew CYMS winger Semisi Katoa before dishing off to Setu about 35 out from the line.
Setu pinned his ears back, looking for the right corner and although CYMS centre Jerome Harrison did bring him down five metres out, his momentum and the waterlogged Wade Park surface was enough to see him slide over and secure the Dragons the most remarkable of grand final wins.
The 2016 Dragons became the first side since the 2000 Mudgee group – both coached by Tony Pascoe – to win the Western Challenge Cup from fifth, Sunday’s victory capped off a remarkable finals run.
Mudgee’s last title win came in 2009, in similarly thrilling circumstances. That year, Lithgow Workies were leading 29-28 before the infamous Terry Crane attempted chip and chase, which led to the Dragons regathering and Corin Smith scoring to secure a 32-29 win.
“It doesn’t really get any sweeter than that,” Mudgee skipper Jared Robinson said.
“We spoke about it during the week that we were the last side in the competition to come from fifth and win it, it’s lucky we had the momentum coming into it I think and it really paid off [on Sunday].
“I think it was our attitude that got us over the line. We got a bit of luck when it really mattered, but that kind of try is the stuff dreams are made of, it was incredible stuff.
In abhorrent conditions at Wade Park, which prior to the game some suggested were tailor-made to provide the thriller they ultimate did, CYMS were gifted the first points of the game after Mudgee prop Hamish Bryant took Ben McAlpine late.
The resulting penalty was 10 metres out straight in front and McAlpine gleefully pointed to the sticks before nailing the kick to give his side a 2-0 lead after just six minutes.
Mudgee had a chance to hit back just five minutes later after McAlpine knocked on – he was caught just before he kicked it on the fifth – but referee Nathan Blanchard ruled double movement after Dragons centre Lee Hicks reached out in the left corner.
With the Dragons looking gassed, and seemingly struggling to get around in the slop, CYMS missed a big chance to score in the left corner.
Five-eighth Dom Maley found some room and looked certain to score but popped to Semisi Katoa, he wasn’t expecting it and fumbled the pass to let another chance go begging.
Five minutes later, Mudgee scored on the back of a Katoa error. Chasing a chip kick that went over his head, Katoa couldn’t gather it cleanly. Mudgee picked up possession and two tackles later Wooden latched onto a Condon grubber. He converted his own try to give the Dragons a 6-2 lead.
It stayed that way until Wooden kicked a penalty to make it 8-2 in the 49th minute, before Ryan Griffin dived over for CYMS in the 55th, McAlpine missed the conversion but potted a penalty not long after to make it 8-8.
Wooden and McAlpine traded penalties again, making it 10-10, before Setu’s last-gasp heroics.
“We won, it’s an awesome feeling. To come from fifth to win it, it’s just awesome,” Setu said just after the win.
“I knew there was guys behind me chasing and I knew they’d push me over if I fell (before the line), it was slippery.
“It was full on. I just finished off the big efforts from everyone, the credit needs to go to them. It’s my first year with the Dragons too, it’s just the perfect way to finish off with the boys.”
Injured CYMS player-coach Mick Sullivan was stoic in defeat, especially considering his side earned the right to host the grand final after a last-ditch try secured a major semi-final win against Bathurst Panthers.
He wasn’t about to begrudge the Dragons the credit they deserved for producing a similar four-pointer to steal the 2016 premiership on Sunday.
“On the hooter they score a freakish try and we can’t begrudge that. We did the same thing in the semi,” Sullivan said.
“[CYMS] gave their heart in this game and the Panthers game as well … [the loss is] the flip side of the equation now.
“I’d love for those results to be reversed now, but that’s footy.”
MUDGEE DRAGONS 14 (Rota Setu, Sam Wooden tries; Wooden 2 goals, pen goal) def ORANGE CYMS 10 (Ryan Griffin try; Ben McAlpine 3 pen goals)