Orange Emus' success for much of the past decade in the Blowes Clothing Cup has been built on consistency, strength at the set piece, and sheer determination.
The defended premiers needed every drop of it on Saturday in a gripping and physical slugfest against the Dubbo Kangaroos.
Emus were without the likes of Nigel Staniforth, Gus Roberts, and Lachie Harris and trailed 7-0 at the break but they did what they do best in the second 40 and ground down the Roos on the way to a nail-biting 12-7 victory.
Emus co-captain Charlie Henley described it as one of the most tough matches he's been a part of while Roos coach Paul Hausia was obviously disappointed to fall just short of a major victory but was proud to see the structure he's worked so hard to instill finally come together in what was one of the Dubbo side's best performances of the season.
"I couldn't ask any more of the boys today," Hausia said.
"What we did today is what we've been wanting to do all season. When you've got a quality team like Emus you're going to be tested, and we were, but full credit to the boys today.
He's 18. That's incredible.Emus skipper Charlie Henley on boom rookie Jake Ritchie following his match-winning outing in Dubbo
It was during the second grade match at No. 1 Oval on Saturday when Henley spoke to his players and said they would need to produce an 80-minute performance to get the win in the main fixture.
He couldn't have been proved more correct as it was only in the final seconds did Emus' secure the five-point win.
After having the better of things for much of the second half the Emus allowed hosts back into the contest late on and in the final moments the hosts had a half-chance and shifted the ball to the right sideline but outstanding cover defence from Jake Ritchie resulted in the Roos being bundled into touch as the final whistle sounded.
It was one of two massive moments teenager Ritchie had on the match as he also scored the visitors' opening try early in the second half.
"He's 18. That's incredible," Henley said post-game.
"It was 80-plus minutes with that tackle in the corner at the end. I couldn't be more proud."
Henley said it had earlier been a matter of "trusting the process" as his side went into the break scoreless despite a glut of possession.
The Roos had dominated the ball at the start of the match and after going close to scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes they deservedly got the first try when captain and flyhalf Styles sliced through and ran around to plant the ball down under the posts.
His conversion made it 7-0 and while his side had the momentum the Emus were slowly but surely started to earn more possession as their strength at the breakdown began to show.
The hits were brutal and both sides were left reeling, with Jack Marchinton of Emus exiting the match following a head knock while Roos fullback Joe Nash needed plenty of attention just before the break after he suffered a nasty gash above his eye in a head clash.
The Roos had been immense and physical in defence for much of the first half to ensure they kept the lead but shortly after the break the Emus forced an error from the hosts and that gave them a sniff.
Ritchie dived over in the corner after sustained pressure to get his side on the board and while Henley spent 10 minutes in the bin for a deliberate knock-on some ill-discipline from the Roos meant they couldn't take advantage.
Instead, Emus marched the ball downfield and Simon Badgery used all his experience to dart off the back of the ruck and wrestle his way over and score the game's final try midway through the half
"To go down seven in the first few minutes and then grind that win is incredible," Henley said.
"We knew we should have them in the scrum and that's where we set our dominance and we got them in the lineout towards the end and put pressure on them."
- ORANGE EMUS 12 (Jake Ritchie, Simon Badgery tries; Jamil Khalfan conversion) defeated DUBBO KANGAROOS 7 (Jake Styles try, conversion)
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