IT’S been more than 30 years since the Muswellbrook Rams have beaten the Aberdeen Tigers in a first grade grand final.
And, that record will remain for at least another 12 months after the Tigers clinched the 2017 BHP Billiton Hunter Valley Group 21 Rugby League title at Olympic Park, Muswellbrook, on Saturday.
It was a heart-breaking result for the Rams, who endured a similar fate in 2016.
But, the minor premiers could not match Aberdeen’s enthusiasm on the park when it mattered most.
With the game in the balance at 18-16, experienced Tigers trio Josh Schmiedel, Liam Foran and Chris Hunt proved to be the difference.
They had an outstanding support cast, too.
Marcus Marsh, Chris Vidler, Daniel Hoogerwerf, Andrew Nicholls, Guy Thompson, Liam Fitzsimmons, James Standing and the evergreen Mark Wilton led from the front foot, while the backs Harry Douglass, Jesse McLean, Hamish Wolfgang, Karl Shearman, Cameron French and Matt Thompson also played their roles impeccably.
“It’s a massive effort by the boys,” Hoogerwerf said.
“Only a few weeks ago, everyone doubted as to whether we could even make the play-offs.
“However, the guys dug deep.
“We reached the semis – and then knocked over Scone, Singleton and, now, Muswellbrook.
“It doesn’t get much better.
“Go the Tigers.”
The Muswellbrook camp was far from disgraced either.
In the end, it just wasn’t their day.
Rohan Pottinger, Dylan Thorne, Corey Holman, Reggie Saunders, Liam Dunn, Andrew Pritchard, Brady Benkovic, Elliott Serhan and Jeffrey Saarikko gave everything they had.
So did the side’s attacking weapons Cade Boney, Ewin Bartholomew, Lennie Craft, Daniel Ellis, Zac Webb, Jacob Ellis and Jake Hardy.
Unfortunately, recently-crowned Player of the Year Thorne’s campaign ended after 20 minutes, due to a serious knee injury.
The Rams even secured the start they desired with Webb crossing early and Hardy converting for 6-0.
Aberdeen responded straight away – Foran, Hoogerwerf and Vidler all touching down.
With French landing the three goals, the Tigers surged ahead 18-6.
Mid-way through the first half, Hardy intercepted and found a flying Jacob Ellis on his hip. Hardy missed the kick and it remained 18-10.
Soon after, Saunders popped a smart ball to Holman, who dived over near the uprights. Hardy raised the flags and the scoreline to 18-16 at the break.
Foran gave Aberdeen some breathing space, with a second four-pointer, at 22-16.
When Hunt added his name to the list, the match seemed all but over at 26-16.
But, Muswellbrook kept the ball alive and Craft scored in the corner for 26-20 in the 62nd minute.
Hunt extended the Tigers’ margin again and, when Thompson barged his way through the defence, the issue was beyond doubt at 36-20.
A late, well-deserved try to Bartholomew, converted by Hardy, wrapped it up at 36-26.
ABERDEEN TIGERS 36 (Liam Foran 2, Chris Hunt 2, Daniel Hoogerwerf, Chris Vidler, Guy Thompson tries; Cameron French 3, Matt Thompson goals) defeated MUSWELLBROOK RAMS 26 (Zac Webb, Jacob Ellis, Corey Holman, Lenny Craft, Ewin Bartholomew tries; Jake Hardy 3 goals)