CENTRAL West Blue Bulls coach Dean Oxley has rated Sunday's successful Caldwell Cup defence as an even more satisfying triumph than the team's previous victory in 2019.
The Bulls travelled to Tamworth on the weekend with the belief that they could make it two wins in a row, but certainly not carrying the same lofty expectations on themselves they had two years ago.
However, the Bulls overcame a patchy preparation in the lead up to the tournament to get by Central Coast 21-7 in Saturday's semi-final and then see off Far North Coast 24-19 in Sunday's decider.
"This feels even better because of the fact that we were so underprepared," Oxley said, when compared Sunday's win to the 2019 success.
"In 2019 we were coming off the back of a tour and we were confident that we were coming here to win it. We were disappointed in 2018 after losing the final so were we very happy to break through.
"Today was an outstanding result with a new bunch of guys and a core group from the last time. We're really looking forward to going for the three-peat."
Oxley said despite some iffy moments in attack it was otherwise an immensely satisfying performance in the final.
"It was a cracking game. We got our whole squad involved and they got it done. It's great going back-to-back," he said.
"I thought the girls played great to get the day off to a good start. They were up against a really stronger Newcastle side who play in the Sydney competition. Then we went out there and backed it up.
"We didn't execute on a few of our options which meant that we were under pressure right until the final whistle but credit goes to everyone who put their hands up.
"Hopefully from the back of this we'll generate a lot more interest and involvement. We've got a great squad together here, so we won't need to get in new faces, but we're going to welcome everybody to be a part of the Blue Bulls and enjoy the spoils."
Central West got on top early in Sunday's finale and had almost 100 per cent of possession in the opening 10 minutes.
That dominance wouldn't quite set the standard for what Bulls would bring for the rest of the game, though the Central West men wouldn't look threatened throughout most of the game.
It was when Bulls got out to a 24-5 lead that Far North Coast tried to make a late charge.
After a pair of tries to their opponents Central West were able to hold firm and retain their mantle as the dominant force in country rugby union.
Oxley said their coastal rivals made sure they would have to work for the victory - and will likely continue to do so in the years to come.
"At 24-5 I'd dumped the bench to get everyone out there but then they kept coming at us. They're a strong side with a lot of ex-Super Rugby players in there," he said.
"There's Australian 20s players in the team as well, and the region hasn't been this strong for a long time. It's been around 45 years since they were last in a Caldwell Cup final, and they came here to win it.
"Berrick Barnes moved up to the area as well, the ex-Wallaby who has come back from Japan. While he wasn't available this year he's someone we're going to have to contend with next time.
"It was really high quality footy so credit to our guys who stepped up today and got it done."
Oxley and the coaching staff went up to Tamworth with a philosophy that everyone squad member should have significant involvement in the campaign.
Far North Coast made their charge with several key Bulls players on the interchange but the coach was still proud of the depth on show from the Central West region.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous but I put Mahe [Fangupo], the captain, back out there and he controlled the game really well. He finished it off for us," Oxley said.
"I believe that when you take a squad away you use the squad. If I want boys to be a part of this program they need to feel like they contributed.
"There's a starting 15 for a reason, as they're considered to be a high level footballer, but the connection that we've developed throughout the whole group means that no-one has let down their mates. Players playing above themselves is what got us over the line."
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