WHEN Wellington Cowboys coach Justin Toomey-White had nine players show up in the McDonald's car park on Saturday morning it was not a promising sign for their Bathurst Nines campaign, but fortunately things got better.
A whole lot better.
As it turned out more Cowboys were already on their way to Jack Arrow Oval so Wellington had a handy squad for the tournament. They then went on to win six consecutive games and be crowned champions.
As Toomey-White, who was also named player of the tournament, accepted the trophy after his men beat Orange Hawks 16-4 in the final, he spoke of the pride they showed for the Cowboys and the Wellington community.
"We're stoked. We're getting a really good squad in Wello and we're building to have pride in our jersey and in our community," he said.
"The boys defended their butts off today and they certainly showed the pride in their jersey.
"That was for all our loved ones."
After a Group 11 premiership winning campaign in 2019, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season. It meant Toomey-White was unsure how his squad would fare in the inaugural Bathurst Nines.
"We had this pencilled into out calendar for a few weeks now," he said.
"We started our pre-season this week and we came down here just to give the boys a bit of fun because we didn't get any footy last year.
"What a way to start pre-season - we come out here, play good footy and win it to top it off, it's awesome."
While St Pat's had to settle for fourth place and Bathurst Panthers lost their final pool game 14-8 to Hawks to miss out on the decider and see the Orange outfit advance instead, Cowboys qualified comfortably.
They scored just shy of 100 points across their five pool games as they defeated Orange Warriors (24-10), Quakers Hill Destroyers (30-0), Orange Hawks (18-8), Bathurst Panthers (14-6) and St Pat's (12-10).
They scored the first try of the final after just 53 seconds as Will Lousick sprinted to win the chase to a Mason Williams kick, diving on the ball as it rolled into the in-goal area.
Hawks hit back off the next set after a Marcel Ikinofo line break to lock it up at 4-all, but by the end of the first nine-minute half the Cowboys were back in front.
Again they had speed out wide to thank, as Aidan Ryan sprinted away down the right edge. Williams converted to make it 10-4.
When Wellington was pinged for off-side in the first set of the second half, Hawks drove into the Cowboys territory. But while they got close - Ethan McKellar getting within inches of the line - Toomey-White's men held strong.
They dealt Hawks the killer blow with 5:52 left when Carl Ralph ran away down the left flank to score.
The successful conversion put the final score at 16-4.
"We knew they were going to be tough. It was a tough game against them earlier in the day and we knew they'd come out hard, they're a good bunch of boys, so to beat them is just a good feeling," Toomey-White said.
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