GRAND FINAL COVERAGE
- WE LOVE THAT WINNING FEELING: Premiers' veterans say end is not in 2020
- FANS IN THE STANDS: Who was out and about at the rugby on Saturday
- CITY DETERMINED TO RISE AGAIN: How the Lions' loss will spark a City revival
- SAM'S BRILLIANT 2020: Greatbatch caps off sensational year with awesome title
- KILLER 10 MINUTES: City coach says lapses after half-time hurt Lions
A dominant second half showing from Orange Emus' pack has helped lift the greens to an undefeated Blowes Clothing Cup premiership, the 26-14 derby victory over Orange City capping arguably the most trying season the region has ever endured.
Players worked through two pre-seasons following the COVID-19 pandemic, had to comply with new restrictions and took park in a shortened campaign in 2020.
In Emus' case, they took on an extra regular season match to ensure a workable draw was possible, were forced to move a home game to Bathurst after Endeavour Oval turned to slop, had their skipper miss over a month of the season with a cancer scare and then weathered two mighty finals challenges to hold aloft the trophy they let slip to Bulldogs in 2019.
They knocked off the defending premiers in week one of the semis, though, and then found themselves under-fire from an Orange City side that has improved immensely in 2020.
But Emus showed real grit to weather that Lions storm early.
And on the back of two tries to Charlie Henley and another to Archie Hall produced their best 40 minutes of the season when they needed it most to secure the title, the club's fourth in the last seven seasons, in front of 2000 people at a COVID-safe Wade Park.
"This means everything. This has been the toughest year of footy I've ever had," an emotional Henley said post-match, the rain setting in on a freezing cold Orange evening.
"This is the best feeling ever."
It's Henley's first premiership with Emus having joined the club in 2019 and suffering defeat in last year's decider at Bathurst.
The try-scoring hooker said that defeat was his third grand final loss by less than three points in the last five years, and he was thrilled to have the monkey off his back in 2020, of all years.
We've turned up week-in, week-out since January and even with all those breaks, it's unbelievable. I've never felt this good in my life.Emus co-captain Charlie Henley
"They put every obstacle in front of us. Bathurst nearly touched us up last weekend and we got through that and we just knew if we could put 80 minutes together today we'd get through and we'd beat anyone," he said.
Early, though, City was tough - a fact Henley acknowledged and one he said the greens knew they'd have to weather.
"We knew they'd be up early and it was a focus all week that we match that first half-an-hour. If they were going to be a chance it was then," he added.
"I've got nothing but respect for our boys. We've turned up week-in, week-out since January and even with all those breaks, it's unbelievable. I've never felt this good in my life.
"To captain this team alongside Nige, I can't believe this."
City's start was terrific - but it lacked points.
Twice the Lions had the chance to open the scoring, but the boot of Keegan Harding was slightly off with the first penalty attempt of the game and then, just minutes later, the last-pass from Steven Widders couldn't find an unmarked Nick Smith for the grand final's first try.
They're chances City had to covert, because once Emus won possession and worked the ball up-field, Staniforth's boot nailed the minor premiers' first shot at a 3-0 lead.
This was a different Lions though, especially to the 2019 version.
Not deterred by the deficit or at-times sketchy execution, City battled with Emus' vaunted pack and throughout the opening 30 minutes of the game had the better of the greens' tight five.
At the forefront of that, prop Sia Nemani charged on to an inside pass just after the 20-minute mark and surged up-field to give the Lions another chance at points.
Third time lucky and on the next phase, Joe Lasagavibau put a neat little grubber kick in behind the Emus' defence and winger Eman Rodriguez was there to pounce on the ball, despite some questions on the challenge with his opposite Harry Cummins.
Harding's conversion made it 7-3, and another Staniforth penalty soon after bumped the score along to 7-6 and it looked like City would lead at the break.
But Emus had already weathered the storm, now they were ready to pounce - and they did.
Henley bagged his first try just before the break and Hall nabbed his one minute after half-time to turn what was a one point deficit nearing the break into a 16-7 lead just after half-time.
Both tries came on the back of pick and drives, and it was a tactic Emus continued to turn to when needing points - with great affect.
Keeping it tight again, Henley had his second try come the 55th minute, this time via a rolling maul and after scoring that five-pointer, the emotion was there for all to see as Staniforth's conversion made it 23-7.
Another penalty from Emus' veteren superboot and a consolation try from City replacement forward Jesse Pavlovich rounded out the scoring at 26-14, securing Emus' the 2020 crown, flanker Jack Marchinton named player of the game.
"It's amazing to go through undefeated, and have our colts win and win the club championship too, we've not won the club championship in that seven year run," co-coach Jeremy Wallace said.
It's awesome. This is right up there.Emus co-coach Jeremy Wallace on the 2020 win.
"It's awesome. This is right up there."
He said City's early onslaught was expected, but his side was primed to produce its best on the biggest day.
"The boys executed our game plan to a tee today, we believed in the system and kept playing our rugby," he added.
Wallace says he'll likely have a break from coaching in 2021, after having an input in each of Emus' last seven campaigns.
- ORANGE EMUS 26 (Charlie Henley 2, Archie Hall tries; Nigel Staniforth conv; Nigel Staniforth 3 pen goals) def ORANGE CITY 14 (Jesse Pavlovich, Eman Rodriguez tries; Keegan Harding 2 convs)
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