An at times controversial and difficult season made Saturday’s VRU country division premiership success even sweeter for the Bendigo Rugby Union Club.
The Fighting Miners shocked minor premier Border Army 50-13 to claim the Coulter Cup at Box Hill, the first time Bendigo has defeated the Dogs this season.
Bendigo ran in seven tries to one in a vintage display, dominating the team which had monstered it in 2012.
Bendigo’s other matches against Border Army resulted in three losses - 75-7, 54-5 and 40-12.
Saturday’s turnaround even stunned club president Alan Wilkinson, who was a player when the club won the first of its 12 flags in 1981.
“To be honest, I said to the boys I didn’t think you could win… they’ve beaten us by massive scores three times during the season and then we just reversed the scoreboard,” Wilkinson said.
“There’s finals football teams and we’re certainly one of those. All of a sudden it clicks, it must be September.”
Played in wet and windy conditions, the Border Army was no match for the pace and power of the Fighting Miners.
With first use of the wind the Miners conceded an early drop goal but responded with an immediate try in the corner to winger Michael Crichton.
Border Army reclaimed the lead with a penalty goal, before the Miners went to another level.
Big forwards Nicki Poingdestre and the Tuitupou brothers – Elson and Jesse – made good yardage, while centres Johneen Fagavao and Daniel Afualo continually threatened the Dogs’ defensive line.
The pressure was rewarded when flanker Allan Saville pounced on a loose ball to make the score 10-6 at the 20 minute mark.
Three more tries, a penalty goal and two conversions in the next 20 minutes saw the Miners in complete control at half-time, leading 32-6.
Playing into the wind didn’t faze the Miners in the second half, with the constant pressure forcing Border Army to concede penalties.
Two penalties were converted into points by Miners’ winger Neil Johnson, before the Dogs scored its solitary try with seven minutes remaining.
The Miners weren’t done yet, though, with five-eighth Faren Moefaauo scoring two tries in the final two minutes to seal a memorable win – the club’s sixth from six attempts in grand finals at Sparks Reserve.
Considering the early season controversy when six Bendigo players were suspended for their part in an all-in brawl against Deniliquin, the Miners’ ability to regroup and win the premiership impressed the club president.
“From our very worst to our very best, we just turned it around,” Wilkinson said.
“As the president I’m just rapt the team, not just the players but the whole lot, were able to pull together to turn a negative into a positive.It’s a wonderful feeling.”
The grand final victory was Bendigo’s first since 2009 and it saw loose-head prop Poingdestre equal the club record of six premierships with hall-of-fame member Rauna Murray.