THE right boot of Nigel Staniforth has kicked Orange Emus to back-to-back Blowes Clothing Cup premierships for the first time since 2002.
With the score locked at 11-all deep into injury time, Emus were awarded a penalty after Forbes’ rock-solid scrum collapsed in the mud at Endeavour Oval.
Scoring all 11 of Emus points leading to that point, Staniforth stepped up to take the season-defining kick and calmly slotted the winning points to hand his side the 2016 title in a pulsating, physically brutal encounter with the Platypi.
With the defence from both sides as desperate as it was bruising, the three-point was an instant classic, albeit in atrocious conditions.
“I’ll take any premiership,” a beaming Staniforth said immediately after booting the winning kick.
“Back-to-back is good but you take any premiership. You don’t know how these days fold out; it could be a big blow out or it could be tight. Sometimes you don’t play your best.
“You take any premiership.”
Staniforth was the rock for Emus in a grueling encounter against a vastly improved Forbes outfit from the one that trotted out in 2015.
Last year the Platypi finished ninth, but on the back of huge efforts all season long from the likes of No.8 Matt Cole and hooker Jarrod Hall, Forbes surged to within a kick of the 2016 title.
Both were sensational in a beaten side, with Forbes leading 8-3 after Adam Hall’s three-pointer was added to by a Josh Coulthurst try in the first half.
Emus drew level thanks to a Staniforth try then, three minutes later, his ensuing penalty goal handed Emus an 11-8 advantage at the break – they wouldn’t score again until injury time.
Forbes had all the running early in the second stanza, and used the huge stash of possession to mount raid upon raid on Emus’ line.
Tellingly, the Greens repelled each and every phase, the hosts defense outstanding in that 15 minute period immediately after half-time.
As the game wore on, space eventually opened up, Emus’ fly-half Carter Hirini twice finding his clean pair of heels in the back field.
Both runs charged the defending premiers into Forbes territory, a rarity in the second half.
When the pendulum swung, Emus went hard at the Platypi’s line through their forwards, props Nas Havealeta and Michael Graham punching away at the visitors’ line.
But to their credit, Forbes’ defense was first class.
It had to be to keep them in the contest, with an unfortunate scrum collapse the only real blemish in an absorbing contest made all the more gripping by an underdog that kept coming all day.
“We worked hard all year. We didn’t work just to make it, we worked to win it all,” Forbes coach Hare Lavaka said.
“At the end of the day that’s the way it finished. I think Emus were fresh. They went all day.
“I said to them after the game, from where we were to where we are now, the whole town is behind them, I’m very proud of them.”
Staniforth said the week off after the major semi-final win meant Emus were slow out of the blocks.
They lent on their defence as a result.
“Those two weeks off we lacked intensity,” he said.
“The guys were trying hard we just didn’t have the running in the legs, Forbes did.
“We were waiting for it and had to dig deep, keep grinding away and we just got there.”
ORANGE EMUS 14 (Nigel Staniforth try; Nigel Staniforth 3 pen goals) def FORBES PLATYPI 11 (Josh Coulhurst try; Adam Hall, Jeff Stewart pen goals)