Two tries in a wonderful "captain's knock" from skipper Nathan Ward has lifted Western to far from its prettiest win this Daley Cup campaign but arguably the Rams' most important.
Kurt Hancock's Western outfit found itself down 12-0 against the Dragons on the South Coast on Sunday but on the back of a super outing from Ward, and a typically scheming performance out of acting half from young Forbes rake Campbell Woolnough, the Rams wrestled back the momentum and secured a 32-20 victory to remain undefeated in the 2019 under 18s country championship.
Coach Kurt Hancock said his side looked mentally fatigued in the warm-up and was "dragged down into the dog fight" against a Dragons side determined to prove its worth against the ladder-leading Rams.
But in the end class prevailed.
“We had to work pretty hard, South Coast is a gritty team … and we went away from the stuff we have been doing well so far," Hancock said.
"We're lucky we’ve got so many good players and a few individuals dragged us out of it.
"The boys looked mentally tired from the last month or so. You could tell before the game we weren’t there."
Hancock said the Rams worked hard to drag the game back and despite it being far from Western's best performance securing the two points made it their best important win of the campaign to date.
On top of Ward's brace, Woolnough, Liam Henry, Ryan Manning and Noah Ryan all crossed for four-pointers.
"We didn’t play to our standards but I’m still happy with the win. There's 1000 excuses for us not to go on and get ourselves out of the hole we were in; Long bus trip, overnight stay … we easily could have put the cue in the rack," Hancock said.
"But to their credit stuck in and got the job done. We weren't at our best, even the players said that. They're a bit disappointed and hard on themselves."
Still, Western will almost certainly play finals football in the Daley Cup in 2019 following the win, and another strong outing against Monaro this Sunday at Parkes will secure the Rams top spot.
Western then plays the Tigers at Bathurst and Hancock said the Rams would relish playing at home in the coming weeks.
“I think so, two home games is now a big bonus for us," he said.
"It’s always tough heading to South Coast. They had a good team against us. We had to really grind it out."
- WESTERN RAMS 32 (Nathan Ward 2, Campbell Woolnough, Liam Henry, Ryan Manning, Noah Ryan tries; Tyler Colley 4 goals) def ILLAWARRA SOUTH COAST DRAGONS 20 (A Lobb 2, T Roberts, J Walsh tries; T Robers 2 goals)