When players from the Narromine bench and fans from all corners of a packed Cale Oval streamed on to the field at full-time on Saturday, they were celebrating more than the Gorillas’ remarkable New Holland Agriculture Cup grand final win.
The come-from-behind win over a gallant Parkes Boars was special in itself, but all year the Gorillas’ unbeaten run through the competition hasn’t just represented the ability of the 15 players on the the field.
Like many places in the western area of the state, Narromine and the surrounding area has been battling the harsh drought conditions which are some of the worst known in the last century.
The Gorillas’ dominance of the second tier of Central West Rugby Union has been a welcome distraction for those doing it tough, and Saturday’s incredible come-from-behind win was the most joy some people in the town can have outside of seeing it rain.
“We’re a core group of farmers or people in agribusiness and we all feel it. It’s been good to have this and forget about that for awhile. It’s special.”— Nick Guthrie (@Nj_Guthrie) August 18, 2018
It’s more than a grand final win for Narromine. This unbeaten season has provided so much for a town doing it tough. #CWRU18pic.twitter.com/LfLxhK8z0d
It wasn’t joyous all the time on Saturday and the hometown crowd was in a stunned silence at half-time after a slick Parkes outfit shot out to a deserved 15-0 lead at the break.
But the Gorillas used all their experience and drew on the kind of toughness which doesn’t just come from the rugby field to storm back into the game and ultimately win the decider, 19-15.
“It’s been such a tough year and to have a shining light like this, it puts it to one side,” Narromine coach and back-rower Craig Campbell said post-game.
“We’re a core group of farmers and people in agribusiness and we all feel it and it’s always in the back of our mind.
“But this is a good feeling and everyone has a positive mindset, they’ve forgotten about that (drought) today.”
The Gorillas have been positive and controlled for almost the entire season but they were anything but early on in Saturday’s game.
The Cale Oval crowd was on a high after seeing the club’s second grade side win an enthralling second grade grand final but there was almost nothing the cheer about in the first 40 of the main game.
It was Parkes which started the better, capitalising on uncharacteristic Gorillas errors time and time again.
The Boars muscled up against the highly-regarded Gorillas pack and controlled proceedings early and electric flyhalf Lloyd Rogers gave his side the lead with a penalty goal on 11 minutes.
Rogers than had the pocket of Boars fans on their feet shortly after, slicing through the Narromine defensive line and going past a number of would-be tacklers on the way to scoring a brilliant individual try.
The Welshman missed the conversion but the lead grew again not long after, as rampaging centre Ben Powlay went through and stretched out past the Gorillas defence to set-up a 15-0 lead.
20 | What injury!? Lloyd Rogers take a bow! Sensational individual try! He slices through 30m out, beats a couple of defenders and scores. His conversion misses in the wind (despite some assistance) but Parkes leads 8-0. Great start from the underdogs. #CWRU18pic.twitter.com/ciRPchZVGx— Nick Guthrie (@Nj_Guthrie) August 18, 2018
“It was frustrating,” Campbell said of the mood at half-time.
“Especially for me, being the coach but we just didn’t use our forwards enough but once we got them going it was a different game.”
Opposition sides have spoken about the Gorillas forward pack all season and while Parkes captain-coach Josh Miles knew the hosts would be much-improved in the second half, his side still couldn’t stop it happening.
Campbell scored 10 minutes into the second half after being put over by replacement scrumhalf Ryan Pratten, who was filling in for the injured Jono Sharkey.
The Gorillas dominated possession after that and it seemed like only a matter of time until they scored again.
After more pressure up front, the ball was spread out for winger Billy Browning to score just after the hour.
Parkes led by three points but couldn’t get a grip on the game, with the Narromine front row dominating the scrum and ruck, while Pratten and flyhalf George Hancock directed the side around.
With 10 minutes remaining, the Gorillas went pick-and-drive a number of times after a string of penalties and Sam McLeod got the ball over.
Parkes finally got into the Gorillas half in the final minutes and threw everything at the hosts, Miles even playing with what looked like a serious knee injury, but the Narromine defence held firm.
“That was special. Being down, and then working our way back … I’ve won a Blowes (Clothing Cup) before but that was special,” Campobell said.
“Especially with this group. We started last year in the Graincorp Cup and we’ve worked our way back.
“Parkes is a great team … I know a lot of them and I feel for them but we worked pretty hard to get here and it’s a pretty great feeling.
“It was a great game. That was one for the ages.”
Miles, who was struggling to walk post-game, remained proud of his troops and confessed the experienced Gorillas outfit handled the pressure better than his young side.
“We’re very disappointed to throw a 15-0 lead away but I’m proud of the boys and no one expected us to be here,” he said.
“It did come down to experience. and when they were on the back foot they went back to their strengths and we let them play their game too much.
“I think we’ve got two boys in the team over 25 and two over 30 so hopefully everyone sticks around and we can add some experience in the squad and hopefully we’ll be back here.”
- NARROMINE GORILLAS 19 (Craig Campbell, Billy Browning, Sam McLeod tries; Doug Potter 2 conversions) defeated PARKES BOARS 15 (Lloyd Rogers, Ben Powlay tries; Rogers conversion, penalty)