Put simply, Sunday afternoon was a dream come true for Bathurst Panthers captain-coach Doug Hewitt.
Thrust into the role a year early after Todd Barrow was forced into retirement, all season there was question marks over whether the first-year mentor be able to inspire the side to do what so many Panthers outfits had promised in recent seasons – deliver at crunch time.
Most suggested it wouldn’t happen for Hewitt and his Panthers in 2018, predicting the men in black’s time to come next year, or even the year after.
Of course, history now shows it did happen, Hewitt and his men defying their critics to win the premiership from fourth and doing so after one of the toughest finals runs in recent memory.
They were forced to best Oberon, then Orange CYMS and Hawks before meeting Cowra in the big dance.
“I’ve been saying all year that all we needed was a sniff – a sniff in the finals, a sniff [on Sunday] and we’d take it,” the jubliant, but visibly busted, Hewitt said after full-time on Sunday.
“Everyone wrote us off but not one of the boys dropped their heads at any point, we all knew what we could do and I’m so proud of them all, I wouldn’t trade any one of them for anybody.”
In an incredibly gutsy effort from the halfback he played through the preliminary final and grand final with a torn meniscus.
It took its toll too.
Hewitt could barely walk after Sunday’s grand final, in which Panthers fought back from an early 10-nil deficit to win 12-10 thanks to Willie Wright’s sideline conversion three minutes from full-time.
“She’ll be right mate, it’s just one of those things,” Hewitt smiled, referring to his knee.
“We were always behind but never once did we think were down and out, it’s just such a big credit to all my boys that we could get the job done.
“As I said, I wouldn’t trade any one of them because in my first year they backed me the entire way.”
Although he said was always certain his side could wrestle its way back into the decider at Sid Kallas Oval, Hewitt admitted to plenty of nerves before Wright’s last-gasp attempt, which came after an Andrew Mendes try just in from the eastern touchline.
“With the way we’ve been kicking all year, I wasn’t sure,” Hewitt laughed, when asked how confident he was Wright’s shot would land.
“Being on Willie’s shoulders though, Willie lives for those kind of moments. I’ve only known him this year but he’s made himself such a huge part of this team and I’m really pleased for him.”
Hewitt made one thing very clear after the win too, this could be the start of something much, much bigger.
“The thing is, we’re a young side. I’ve said it all year that we’ve still got these young blokes coming through. It’s incredible to see where we are as a side, and it’s dangerous where we could be in the future,” he said.
“I just, I’m lost for words a bit, what an effort.
“It’s a credit to everyone involved in the club.”