Bathurst Panthers five-eighth and goalkicker Willie Wright told his captain-coach Doug Hewitt during the week that should the opportunity arise in Sunday’s grand final, he’d win the game for him.
Little did he know he’d do exactly that.
With less than four minutes remaining in the Group 10 premier league decider against the Cowra Magpies at Sid Kallas Oval on Sunday, Wright got his opportunity and lived up to his word, knocking over the match-winning goal to seal a thrilling 12-10 win.
To make it even sweeter, the successful conversion was struck directly in front of the Panthers’ faithful on the eastern side of the ground, from all but the sideline.
The victory marked Panthers’ first Group 10 premier league title since 2007.
“I told Dougie during the week that if it was on me to win the game, I told him I’d do it for him,” Wright said after the game.
“This is what goalkicking is about, it’s what you dream of. Cowra’s been the benchmark all year and to do it right in front of our crowd there’s nothing more enjoyable.”
Panthers trailed 10-nil at the break after conceding two early tries in the opening 13 minutes.
Cowra hooker Benji John went himself from dummy-half to open the scoring before centre Lee McClintock, one of Cowra’s best on the day, finished off a sweeping play from left to right.
It became an arm wrestle and Panthers hung in, determined not to concede again.
It was in the 57th when the deadlock was broken with Panthers’ lock Blake Hewitt crashing over and Wright converting to reduce the deficit to 10-6.
With minutes remaining and still trailing 10-6, Panthers winger Andrew Mendes scored the equaliser and Wright’s opportunity arose.
Having missed his aunty’s wedding to play the grand final, Wright made sure he slotted it, and from his boot, he knew it was going over.
“From that side it always fades. I knew if I hit it right and sat it outside the far upright it was going to come back. Hopefully my family forgives me (for missing the wedding),” Wright said.
“I told the boys I made a commitment to them this year. They called me up, no one knew me. For them to give me a call and introduce me to the team I couldn’t be more proud now. They’re a family, I love them. I can’t describe it.”
Players were mobbed by fans at the full-time siren moments later and the Panthers’ victory song was sung.
Hewitt lifted the Western Challenge Cup soon after and Panthers powerhouse Brent Seager was presented the Dave Scott Medal for player of the match.
“With the way we’ve been kicking all year, I wasn’t sure,” Hewitt laughed, when asked if he was confident Wright would knock the match-winner over.
“But Willie lives for those kinds of moments, I just, I’m completely lost for words, what an effort. It’s a credit to everyone involved in the club.”
Cowra coach Steve Sutton felt for his players, particularly the ones who have been around the club for years.
“We started really well and came up with some points. We sort of lost our way in the second-half and couldn’t get any momentum. They were good enough to capitalise and that’s the way it goes,” Sutton says.
“It’s too early to sink in yet. I just wanted to win it for the blokes like Moz (Blake Tidswell) and Ronny Lawrence who turned up week in, week out (over the years) and got hammered when they knew they couldn’t win.
“All of a sudden we got a home grand final and have a really good chance of winning it until it was snatched away in the final few minutes.”
Sutton went on to say he hopes to see the side make the grand final in 2019 and potentially take the next step too, but isn’t committing to the coaching role.
"That might just about do me. We're hoping unlike 2014, a lot of the boys stick around. We can build and maybe go one better,” he said, of course referring to the Magpies’ decider loss to Bathurst St Pat’s four years ago.
- BATHURST PANTHERS 12 (Blake Hewitt and Andrew Mendes; Willie Wright 2 goals) def COWRA MAGPIES 10 (Benji John and Lee McClintock; Caley Mok goal)