AFTER four consecutive years of grand final pain, on Saturday the Bathurst Bushrangers were celebrating a Central West AFL premiership as the Outlaws beat Orange Tigers 13-11-89 to 7-9-51.
While Tigers were first into the grand final and had the advantage of playing on their home turf, Outlaws led at every change at Bloomfield Oval.
Outlaws co-captain Matt Archer, who had been part of the Bushrangers sides that lost three consecutive grand finals to Orange between 2013-15, was delighted to final hoist the premiership trophy.
“It feels good, it’s overwhelming actually. There are more tears here amongst the boys now than there was when we lost,” he said.
“It’s been a long four years, so to finally get the reward is sensational.
“We really knew if we could play attacking football off halfback and switch the ball, play it through the corridor, that would open them up.
“It started with the contested football though. We were able to win the contested football and controlled the ball pretty well, it just set the standard for the rest of the game.”
The first chance of the decider fell to Orange’s Andrew Nelson after just 30 seconds, but he put his kick from the top of the 50 out on the full.
The intensity was there from both sides with two smothers apiece inside the first five minutes and almost every possession being contested.
It took eight minutes for the Outlaws’ first inside 50, with Paul Long’s over the shoulder snap through traffic going through for a minor score.
It was a free kick at the 12 minute mark that finally led to the first major of the match, Cameron Richards hitting the target for the Outlaws.
Kaleb Crowhurst added a second after Tigers were penalised for an incorrect disposal and when Archer capitalised on another infringement, it was 3-2-20 to nil after 17 minutes.
Tigers finally got on the board 40 seconds later with a behind, but the hosts were struggling to get rewards for their inside 50s.
The Tigers had plenty of entries, but under pressure from Bathurst’s defence were unable to take grabs and have shots.
Tim Hunter soon combined with Richards for a fourth major, while Crowhurst nabbed his second just before quarter-time to make it 5-3-33 to 0-2-2.
It was a start which laid the platform for what was to be a convincing Bushrangers win.
Just 40 seconds into the second term the Outlaws pushed further ahead with a major on the back of a 50 metre penalty to Charlie Flude.
It was one of the highlights for the young Bushranger, who went on to be named best on ground.
The Tigers had the next three inside 50s, but were unable to hit the scoreboard.
Finally Allan Charnock got the Tigers’ first major of the grand final in the 32nd minute, reducing the deficit to 31 points.
But Crowhurst replied with the next goal of the match, and after Outlaws won the centre clearance which followed, Archer thumped another.
An off the ball penalty three minutes out from half-time saw Brady Bennett add a much-needed second goal for the Tigers, making it 8-5-53 to 2-3-15.
That’s how it stayed heading into the long break, the Outlaws on track to make amends for their 2016 grand final loss to Cowra.
Tigers had the first scoring shot of the second half, a Lucas Kelly behind, but following a 50m penalty, Long added Outlaws’ ninth major.
A minute later Hunter booted another following a penalty – Outlaws’ 25th free kick off the match.
Tigers maintained hope when a kick from beyond 50 trickled over the line, but discipline continued to hurt the hosts as they conceded yet another 50m penalty.
On the hour mark, a quick play on from Hunter pushed the Outlaws’ advantage beyond 50 points.
To be any chance of winning the club’s 10th senior crown, Tigers needed to respond.
That they did, kicking the next three majors. Two of them came from Charnock to make it 11-5-71 to 6-6-42 with a quarter to play.
However, six minutes into the final term Hunter kicked his fourth goal of the day, making Tigers’ task of a launching an unlikely comeback even more difficult.
With 11 minutes left 20 Tigers’ Simon Kay was yellow carded and to add further pain, Outlaws kicked a major from the resulting penalty.
Though the last goal of the day belonged to the Tigers, Bennett hitting the target after the siren, it was the Outlaws who celebrated.
It was the fifth senior premiership for Bushrangers and first since 2012.
“We trusted our defenders, we have all year. I think late in the third quarter when they were coming back hard at us, it was because our midfielders were trying to help out the back line too much,” Archer said.
“But the fourth quarter, we just talked about just trusting our backs, don’t over help and it was really good.”
BATHURST BUSHRANGERS OUTLAWS 3-11-89 (Tim Hunter 4, Kaleb Crowhurst 3, Matt Archer 2, Cameron Richards 2, Charlie Flude, Paul Long) defeated ORANGE TIGERS 7-9-51 (Allan Charnock 3, Brady Bennett 2, Lucas Kelly, Jake Adams)