Jack Grant might not have been able to hear the crowd cheering as he ran, but the noise was picking up with every step he took.
It was coming from all around Apex Oval.
In one of the most celebrated moments of the NSW Country Eagles' trip to Dubbo, Orange City junior Grant sprinted 50m to finish in an attacking raid and put his side back in control during the second half of the National Rugby Championship season opener.
It proved vital as the Eagles held on to score a hugely entertaining 38-33 win over a gallant Sydney side.
"I got pretty lucky. I was blowing there," Grant laughed post-game.
"I was too tired to hear it (cheering) but Mum and Dad have come here and it's been awhile since I've been home so it's been great."
That kind of connection with people in the western area is what the Eagles wanted to achieve in Dubbo.
They wanted to make their presence felt and they had done that even before a ball had even been kicked on Saturday.
They spent Friday afternoon and evening with hundreds of juniors from the region, and those youngsters were among more than 1000 fans who were left on the edge of their seat during the Eagles-Sydney contest.
Early on it appeared the NSW Country side was going to start its 2019 campaign in dominant fashion, as a powerhouse performance in the forwards - led by Coonamble junior and Australian representative Ned Hanigan - and some sensational ball movement saw the hosts shoot out to a 26-0 inside 20 minutes.
Without their captain and a major physical presence the Eagles leaked two tries and at 26-all with 25 minutes to go it appeared the city side had all the momentum.
But Hanigan returned to the field and made an immediate impact, with the drive he provided from the back of a maul proving key as hooker David Vea crashed over for his second try of the day.
Replacement scrumhalf Grant's runaway effort then gave the Eagles some breathing space and they held on, despite Sydney grabbing a late consolation.
"Our forward pack was awesome. They're big and strong so anything is possible," Grant said, looking forward.
"We're capable of anything but it's hard to say because it's only been one game. But we'll see how the other teams go and then we'll reassess."
Tom Sandell was part of the "awesome" Eagles forward pack and the Mudgee junior was one of the try-scorers during the early blitz.
His was the third try of the afternoon, coming after Vea opened the scoring in just the third minute and a brilliant flick pass from NSW Waratahs scrumhalf Jake Gordon put fullback Tim Clements over five minutes later.
"I was happy to sneak over. It was my first one all year," Sydney Uni prop Sandell said.
"I'm glad I got there and I was pretty happy. We started a little average in the scrums but we really picked it up.
"We've only had two training sessions and, really, we've barely done anything so to do what we did today we're pretty happy and we know we can do a lot more."
The way the Sydney side started was disappointing for captain Lalakai Foketi but he said the spirit shown in the fightback is something to build on in the coming weeks.
"We didn't expect them to come out firing like that," Foketi said.
"We were 26-0 down and we were chasing it the whole game.
"It's a great bunch of boys and we're only getting stronger and we're bonding more. We only came together for the first time on Tuesday so it's only up from here and we'll take a lot of learning out of this."
- NSW COUNTRY EAGLES 38 (David Vea 2, Angus Bell, Tim Clements, Matt Sandell, Jack Grant; Will Kane 4 conversions) defeated SYDNEY 33 (Lachlan Swinton, Shambeckler Vui, Will Harrison, Lalakai Foketi, Christian Poidevin tries; Harrison 3, Ben Donaldson conversions)
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