Will Lousick savoured a homecoming party like no other on Sunday as his hat-trick led the Wellington Cowboys past the previously undefeated Nyngan Tigers in an enthralling contest at Kennard Park.
Lousick only arrived back in Wellington the day before the game after trying his luck at Redcliffe in Queensland, the club of former Cowboys junior Kotoni Staggs, after a scintillating 2018 Group 11 season.
Having spent little time with the new-look Cowboys the elusive fullback started from the bench but was quickly thrust into the action after the Tigers jumped out to an early 12-0 lead.
Lousick scored with his first touch, finishing off a flowing move to the left, and two further tries in the second half proved vital in the 30-24 victory.
"There's nothing like being at home," Lousick said.
"I knew I had a job to do. We had to stay in that grind and grind it out, slow their forwards down, complete sets, and then we got the win.
"It's a credit to the forwards, they set the platform. That's what I'm there to do, finish it off and do the pretty stuff but the forwards set that platform."
After losses to Dubbo CYMS and Parkes to start the season the Cowboys have now strung together back-to-back wins, with the ability to play for the full 80 minutes vital on Sunday.
A Mason Williams try right on half-time to get the deficit to six was vital, but a potentially severe ankle injury to Nyngan fullback Sam Simmons just minutes before that was also key.
Simmons leapt to field a Williams bomb and the two collided, with the Tigers' fullback coming down on his ankle in the process.
That and a number of other niggles forced captain-coach Justin Carney to make a number of changes in the second 40.
"Everyone was swapping around and changing, I think I changed to about four or five different positions," Carney said.
Despite the troubles within his own side Carney wasn't making excuses and after seeing the Tigers suffer defeat for the first time in 2019 he heaped praise on the Cowboys.
"But at the end of the day that's footy and congratulations goes to Wellington," he said.
"They were the better team and they're going to be the ones to watch this year, I think."
Nyngan came into the match as the form team in the competition and two tries to five-eighth Jai Merritt inside 15 minutes had the visitors firmly on top.
Quick play the balls and a forward pack which continually punched through the middle of the field was making all the difference for Nyngan, while the Cowboys failed to control the ball in the few early chances they did have.
Coach Justin Toomey-White threw Lousick on to spark his side into action and it worked as he beat a number of defenders and went over the top of Simmons on the way to the line.
The Tigers didn't go away through and Jacob Neill muscled across from dummyhalf nine minutes from the break, only for Simmons' injury and Williams' try on the bell to change things.
Lousick got his second when he showed up at the right time to take a Wade Peachey off-load and run around to score under the sticks while his third six minutes later was a thing of simple beauty.
Travis Waddell, who enjoyed a great battle with former Canberra Raiders teammate Carney all game, waited until the last moment to pop a perfect short ball for Lousick to take and stroll through to score to set up a 24-18 lead.
Eleven minutes from time Kennard Park erupted when Dennis Moran burrowed his way over and while an Ash Widders try set up a grandstand finish the hosts hung on against a tiring Tigers team for what could be a vital win.
"Nyngan was three from three so for our boys to show up here and perform the way we did, I'm proud of them," Lousick said, before praising the home crowd.
"It's the best. There's cars all around the ground and there support is great."
- WELLINGTON COWBOYS 30 (Will Lousick 3, Mason Williams, Dennis Moran tries; Williams 5 goals) defeated NYNGAN TIGERS 24 (Jai Merritt 2, Jacob Neill, Ash Widders tries; Daryl Cubby 4 goals)