Orange Emus celebrated their first Blowes Clothing Cup third grade title since 2013 on Saturday morning, downing Bathurst Bulldogs 10-nil in a brutal, thrilling war of attrition at Endeavour Oval.
Little had separated the two sides during the regular season and as result everyone and anyone at Emus’ home ground was predicting an absolute corker of a decider, the clash delivered in a big way.
Emus led by a mere three points at half-time thanks to a 28th minute Claude Dennis penalty goal and produced an inspired effort in defence to hold out the desperate Bulldogs in the second half, before Nik Granger sealed Emus’ win with a try three out from full-time.
For Granger it marked a special moment in his long and celebrated career, the former NSW Country Cockatoo had never made a grand final appearance in his 31 years of playing, let alone won one.
“That’s what you dream about as a kid, it is, it’s a dream come true,” a jubilant Granger said.
“It’s incredible, 31 years and I’d never played in a grand final and we’ve managed to get the job done here, I’m so glad to be able to do it with these guys too.
“Three-nil at half-time, that showed the game. We had it, we had the game but we just couldn’t get ourselves into gear and finish it off but we kept going, the piggies went all day and we busted our guts defensively and got there in the end.
“I couldn't fault anyone out there, it was some game of rugby, I’m just glad to come out on this side of it.”
Naturally Bulldogs coach Ash Goninan was devastated after the loss, as was his entire side, but he made of point of highlighting just how good a game it was.
“It was incredible, it was played in the right spirit and both sides went hard at it, it just ended up being one of those days for us,” he conceded.
“The bounce of the ball fell Emus’ way and we made a few too many errors throughout. When we were down three-nil with 10 or so minutes left we were probably guilty of trying a bit hard, forcing the passes and that kind of thing, but that’s grand final footy.”
Goninan also pointed to his side’s “lack of consistency” as a factor, after not playing for some five weeks leading into the game.
“That showed,” he said.
“It was our first game in a while and we just hadn’t had the opportunity to play together for a while whereas Emus came in after a couple of tough games but that it what it is.
“It’s a grand final and you need to be out in front, creating pressure rather than being put under it and we just didn’t do that.”
The opening stages of the clash were all Bulldogs and the minor premiers looked to have opened the scoring at the sixth minute mark, but Michael Weekes’ penalty goal attempt drifted and thundered into the post.
Momentum swung with that and on the back of their dominant scrum Emus had several chances, but couldn’t take them.
Both sides continued going hammer-and-tongs at each other and it became apparent any points before half-time would be crucial, and two out from the break Dennis provided three of those for Emus with a penalty goal.
He missed a chance to extend the lead to six three minutes into the new half and after that Bulldogs enjoyed the best of the possession, and territory.
They had plenty of chances, but errors and Emus’ wall continually denied them points.
It wasn’t until the dying stages that the greens finally sealed victory. Emus hooker Mark Grivas produced a clutch pilfer with five to go and Bulldogs were penalised immediately afterward.
The Bathurst side conceded another penalty straight afterward and Granger sliced through from 10 metres out after the lineout to seal the victory, and his grand final fairytale with it.
- ORANGE EMUS 10 (Nik Granger try; Claude Dennis conversion, penalty goal) def BATHURST BULLDOGS 0