COMING from 13 points down to secure a home grand final - Bathurst Bulldogs' thrilling 21-20 win over Cowra in Saturday's Blowes Cup major semi-final demonstrated exactly what belief can do.
Though Cowra finished as the minor premiers and had not lost on their home turf since May 15, 2021, the Bulldogs always maintained that they were capable of upsetting the Eagles.
Eight minutes into the second half when Cowra fullback Noah Ryan booted his second penalty goal of the match to make it 20-7, there would've been some Eagles fans pencilling in a home grand final.
But in the wet and mud the Bulldogs kept the faith and kept coming.
"It was a really good 80-minute performance," Bulldogs second rower Justin Mobbs said.
"I think the score line at 20-7 was a little bit deceptive. I felt like we were on top at that point, but Cowra had just a little bit more possession during that period than us and to their credit, they capitalised on that.
"But I didn't ever feel like we were behind the eight ball.
"Cowra are a class team and are big bodies, they definitely played a physical game, but today I felt we stepped up and matched that."
The win brings with it hosting rights for the grand final, so the win for the first XV was something the entire club celebrated.
Second grade had already booked its grand final spot, having posted a 36-17 win over Orange Emus earlier in the day.
"It's a great feeling, we had one in 2019 obviously, but a home grand final is good not only for our first grade team, but a good thing for the club and the Bathurst community," Mobbs said.
While not sending the kick-off the required 10 metres was not the way Bulldogs wanted to start the major semi-final, they soon made amends for that error.
Bulldogs actually enjoyed the better territory in the opening 10 minutes and came very close to scoring following an attacking line-out, prop Lamarn Ma'a halted inches from the line.
That wasn't the only chance Bulldogs created in the opening stages, but the early try they wanted was not forthcoming.
A home grand final is good not only for our first grade team but a good thing for the club and the Bathurst community.- Justin Mobbs
In fact it was Cowra which dealt the first blow.
Realising fullback Joe Nash was up in the defensive line after making a tackle, Cowra five-eighth Will Cummins directed a chip-kick towards the left corner.
The ball bounced favourably for Cowra in the ensuing chase, allowing winger Navitalai Bola to ground it.
Ryan then added the extras with a nice kick from the sideline and when the Bulldogs were pinged for off-side play four minutes late, the fullback's boot was on song again.
That made it 10-0 after 20 minutes.
Bulldogs finally got on the board in the 25th minute when Alex Weal charged onto an inside ball from five-eighth Brad Glasson. Kurt Weekes converted to make it 10-7.
But before half-time the Eagles pushed further ahead.
First came an attacking run from Bola down the blindside following a scrum to give Cowra good field position.
Then the ball was spread back to the right into the hands of Ryan. He spotted a gap, put his foot down then passed to Cummins in support.
Ryan nailed the conversion attempt to have Cowra up 17-7 at half-time.
A penalty goal followed early in the second half to make it 20-7 and five minutes after that, Ryan lined up another shot. This time it missed.
It still looked a long way back for Bathurst, but Bulldogs finally got some possession and drove down field.
In the 58th minute a high shot on Glasson turned the game.
Not only did it see Cowra's offender yellow carded, it gave Bulldogs an attacking scrum 10 metres out.
Moments later Glasson was over, shaping to pass but instead slicing straight through the Eagles' defence.
When that try was converted by Weekes, Bulldogs were a chance at 20-14 and 20 minutes left on the clock.
Ten minutes later came the try which would win them the match and seal a home grand final. It came via Ma'a, the prop going over between the sticks to give Weekes an easy conversion.
"After that try I was pretty forthright with the team that we needed to score again, that we couldn't just go into defensive mode and try and win the game from there because Cowra are a threat across the park," Mobbs admitted.
"I thought at that point that they would score again, so although we were in front, I thought we'd need to score again to win. As it turned out we didn't, but it was a bit nerve-racking at the end there."
As Mobbs indicated the closing stages were still tense, Cowra got within a metres of scoring with five minutes left after an attacking line-out, but Bulldogs held on.
The win means they will host grand final day at Ashwood Park for the second time in the club's history, the other occasion being in 2019 when Bulldogs won the Blowes Cup.
Cowra will now meet the winner of Sunday's minor semi-final between the Orange Emus and Dubbo Kangaroos.
BATHURST BULLDOGS 21 (Alex Weal, Brad Glasson, Lamarn Ma'a tries; Kurt Weekes 3 conversions) defeated COWRA EAGLES 20 (Navitalai Bola, Will Cummins tries; Noah Ryan 2 conversions; Noah Ryan 2 penalties)
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