WHEN Central West scored a post-siren converted try to send Sunday afternoon's Caldwell Cup grand final into extra-time the script was being written for a memorable and historic third straight title at the NSW Country Rugby Union tournament.
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Sadly for the Blue Bulls, their Central Coast opponents weren't interested in seeing that scenario come to fruition.
A high pressure 40 metre penalty kick into the wind from Central Coast's flyhalf Adam Danckert secured a 32-29 victory at Tamworth in a high quality game fitting of its grand final status.
All signs at the start of the game were positive for Central West as they got themselves out to a 17-7 lead before half-time, and most opponents would have folded in such a scenario against the Bulls in recent years.
However, a converted try for Central Coast before the break saw the Bulls' opponents seize critical momentum.
With the wind at their backs it was now the Central Coast who were threatening to run clear with the title when they found two more tries in the second half.
Holding a 29-22 advantage, Central Coast had one last Bulls possession to defend but Central West rolled through the middle of the park to send the game into extra-time.
History wasn't to be for the Bulls as the boot of the grand final's player of the match Danckert denied the fairytale finish for Central West.
Bulls had suffered a disruption in the build up to the tournament with head coach Dean Oxley unable to travel to Tamworth due to COVID-19.
Assistant coach Phil English, who took over the role, said the match was a thriller.
"Both teams were incredibly even. There was nothing between them. The score was an indication to what a high quality game it was," he said.
"We took a minor lead into the second half but there was a wind factor there, probably a seven point wind factor. We gave away a cheap try going into half-time and that gave them momentum going into the second half, which they ran with having the wind at their backs," he said.
"To our guys' credit they worked and worked their way back into the game. We scored that try under the posts after the bell after multiple phases to square it up and take it into extra-time."
Central West earned their spot in the final after accounting for Hunter 23-0 and Illawarra 24-7, delivering a strong showing across both of the Saturday matches.
While Sunday's decider didn't go the way Central West had hoped for, English said the strong state of the region's various competitions have played a big role in the representative team's continued success.
"This was going for three in a row, which hasn't been done before, and it's a credit to our players and staff, like Dean Oxley and Matt Tink, who did incredibly well to get us to this point," he said.
"It's a testament to what they're doing with the game and the Central West with the standards they've been setting. There's nothing but pride for our players in the way they've carried themselves on and off the field for the last three years."
English said Central West wouldn't have even found themselves in the position to shoot for a third straight title if not for the way every member of the side rallies around one another.
"It's such a positive culture, and that's what's led to a winning culture," he said.
"People are turning up for each other, and that's also through the colts, women's and men's. Winning culture is created through an inclusion culture, and that's a credit to the leaders of the teams and the players themselves.
"Dean Oxley had dropped out of this due to COVID on Friday and I have to say that the disruption there was fairly seamless. I would like to think if he was there it would have been a different result, but it's a big credit to our team that we didn't drop our bundle and they kept delivering.
"Getting to the final after beating Newcastle and Illawarra is a wonderful effort, and only falling three points at the final hurdle is amazing. There's nothing but pride there."
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