In a week or two the disappointment of just falling short in the grand final to North Tamworth will ease for Callum Hayne, but on the morning after the match, more than a few beers into the wake, the Bulldogs skipper was still very much being pawed by defeat’s awful embrace.
Kids today are brought up to believe that just taking part in a contest is reward enough. Hayne knows that sometimes winning matters.
“It’s been a good year but if you’re not first you’re last … If you come second you may as well come last,” he said.
For moments in the match, Gunnedah and their supporters must of dared to believe they could stop the Bears winning five straight premierships.
When hooker Hayne produced a 20-metre solo run to score with 11 minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs drew level at 12-all.
And they erased a 16-12 halftime deficit and led 22-16 early in the second half after winger Nic Altmann gathered, at speed, a down-field kick from five-eighth DJ Smith and then grubbered, regathered the ball close to the tryline and scored.
Centre Aaron Donnelly then pounced on a dropped ball to score under the posts.
That elusive premiership, the first since 1998, was dangled in front of them and cruelly ripped away when, late in the match, the Bears’ veteran No.7 Kieran Fisher grubbered nine metres out from the Bulldogs’ tryline and young replacement Jack Patterson, in a blur of pace, dived on the ball in the in-goal area, breaking a 28-28 deadlock, in a match where the lead changed hands several times.
Hayne said: “We weren’t far away but you can be a broomstick away and it’s still not close enough.”
There are undoubtedly people who would prefer to see any team other than North Tamworth win a grand final.
But as the old oval soaked up the last rays of a spectacular spring day, the Bears and their supporters were cocooned in a bubble. And in that exclusive space they marked another successful campaign with the exuberance of a team who had broken a grand final hoodoo.
“They [the premierships] mean the same every time,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t get any better than winning the comp … [I] couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be prouder of the boys.”
In the earlier tier-two league tag grand final, Werris Creek held on for a thrilling one-point win over Boggabri. The Magpies scored the first try early in the game when captain Anna Smith crossed near the posts for a five-pointer – the crucial moment in the 5-4 victory.
Fullback Cassidy Morley, 16, the Roos’ tryscorer, continued her good form with a player of the match performance.
Roos coach Jason Kemp said: “She tried so hard. To get the player of the match in a losing side is an outstanding effort. She has a big future.”