THE best experience ever - that is how St Pat's captain Cooper Neilsen described the feeling of guiding his side to a 20-16 win over Dubbo CYMS in the final of the inaugural Western under 21s competition.
In a fast-paced and physical decider played under lights at Orange's Pride Park on Thursday night, it took a try with just under six minutes remaining from Saints centre Sione Naufahu to seal victory for the Saints against their Group 11 rivals.
As Neilsen, who guided the Saints superbly from halfback and was amongst the try scorers, embraced and congratulated his team-mates after the final siren it was clear how much the win meant to him.
Not long after he and lock Aaron Mawhinney, were named joint winners of the player of the under 21s competition as well.
"It was unreal - to be able to skipper the boys was like the best experience ever. To win the player of the year with my best mate Aaron was so good and then to top it off with a grand final win, even better," he said.
"Struth it was tough and the boys were mentally tough on both sides, no-one really let the arm-wrestle go either way.
"Obviously being from Parkes and playing against Dubbo CYMS before, I knew that Dubbo CYMS were a side that is going to stay in the arm wrestle the whole time.
"For the boys to defend that well in the last four minutes there, that was unbelievable."
CYMS had advanced to the under 21s grand final undefeated, but given the Saints had played out an 18-all draw against them in round two, little was expected to separate the pair. As the final whistle was blown, St Pat's coach Tyson Medlyn sprinted on to the field to celebrate with his players.
"Mate I was nervous, I was really nervous in the end," Medlyn said.
"I knew we were in an arm wrestle and that's how we wanted to play it, we knew they had some good, skilful players out wide. Not taking anything away from our side, we've got some good players out wide too, but I knew they'd scored a lot of points out wide."
For Medlyn the hard-fought win over CYMS was a reward for the work his squad had put into the competition. It was work done across the five round games, semi-final and decider as well as on the training paddock.
"It was just great because the season didn't start six weeks ago, it started before Christmas. I've seen these boys put in every day, they've been leading and they've been great role models for our younger boys coming through," he said.
"So to see these boys get rewarded after about four-five months of hard work."
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