WINNING a Central West Rugby Union first grade premiership - it is not something which has come easily for Bathurst Bulldogs over the years.
While Bulldogs, established in 1874, has a proud tradition of success throughout the grades and has won a bag full of Central West club championships, over the last two decades the first XV have been crowned victors just three times.
Those three titles have been spaced out too, Bulldogs won in 2005, five years later in 2010 there was another triumph and most recently they claimed the silverware when downing Orange Emus 27-24 in a thrilling decider in 2019.
While there were plenty of hard times and heartbreak between those premiership campaigns, there have been periods of Bulldogs dominance.
The Bathurst first XV won four premierships in five years between 1994-1998, including three consecutive three crowns.
Bulldogs won the 1994 premiership against Dubbo Kangaroos, then they fell short in the decider contested between the same sides 12 months later.
The following three years it again came down to a battle between Bulldogs and 'Roos on grand final day.
Let's take a closer look at that impressive treble.
BATHURST BULLDOGS 21 defeated DUBBO KANGAROOS 12
COACH Damien Grant's starting line up for the 1996 decider was full of talent.
Fullback Nick Lavelle was an Australian under 21s representative and winger Dean Oxley a member of the Caldwell Cup winning Central West side that season.
Both centre Damien West (opens) and lock Scott Connor (under 21s) had NSW Country representative experience, while flyhalf Shaun Rafferty was an ex-Eastern Suburbs colts first XV player.
Though Bulldogs had beaten the 'Roos 16-8 in the major semi-final to earn hosting rights for the decider at Carrington Park, the Dubbo side had its stars as well.
Inside centre Stu Mcfarlan had played for NSW B, number 8 Scott Vaughan was a former Central West player of the year, then there was Geoff Koerstz, the NSW Country hooker.
But when Bulldogs centre Mick Begley dived over in the dying seconds, it sealed a 21-12 win for the Bathurst side.
"That '96 grand final for Bulldogs against Dubbo, they had some very good footballers. Koerstzy and all those blokes. It was a really hard comp, it was a tough competition to play in," Grant recalled.
"It could have gone either way. I can remember we were under the pump at one stage and Matty Hall the halfback pulled off a tackle on Geoff Koerstz that could have quite easily seen them march over.
"So it certainly wasn't an easy victory.
"I look back on '96 with extremely fond memories from that year. They worked very hard and there was some decisions that had to be made that weren't easy, but the guys that were in the team were all cracking blokes.
"Some have gone on and really enjoyed other parts of rugby after playing which has been great, blokes like Shane [Cantrill] and Dean Oxley especially, he has contributed enormously with coaching.
"It's good to be involved with blokes like that."
BATHURST BULLDOGS: 1 Tuma Aisake, 2 Brad Kelly, 3 Stu Thomas, 4 Scott Connor, 5 Richard Smith, 6 Shane Cantrill, 7 James Cummins, 8 Pahau Mackey, 9 Matt Hall, 10 Shaun Rafferty, 11 Dean Oxley, 12 Michael Begley, 13 Damian West, 14 Pip McIntosh, 15 Nick Lavelle.
BATHURST BULLDOGS 10 defeated DUBBO KANGAROOS 6
BATHURST Bulldogs might have been the defending premiers, but Dubbo Kangaroos were the red-hot favourites to win the 1997 grand final.
The 'Roos had won all 18 of their regular season games and boasted both the best attacking (801 points scored) and defensive (171 points conceded) records in the first grade competition.
While 'Roos took the direct path to the decider, which they hosted, Bulldogs came from third in the minor premiership to join them.
Dubbo led 6-3 at half-time over Phil Newton's Bulldogs, but 10 minutes into the second half the visitors took the lead.
Scrumhalf Hall, who had booted a first half penalty goal, crossed for what would be the only try of a dour contest. He converted to make it 10-6 and that's how it stayed.
"They hadn't been beaten all year, so it was a tough one. We hadn't beaten them and we hadn't gotten that close to them either, but a few little things went our way and we got the result, which was nice," Newton said.
"They were on top 'til half-time and then they sort of changed the way they played the game and we were lucky enough to be able to capitalise on what they did a little bit differently.
"There were a few changes, but the bulk of the side had been there before. We only had a young team and were slowly building and we had a pretty good run there for four or five years.
"I personally don't think we were expected to win, on grand final day we weren't rated that highly. So to go out and beat them was pretty good.
"It just caps off the year and all the hard work you've done. It makes all the cold nights at training worthwhile."
BATHURST BULLDOGS: 1 Tuma Aisake, 2 Andrew Breen, 3 Peter Candy, 4 Scott Connor, 5 Shane Cantrill, 6 Tim Ditchfield, 7 James Cummins, 8 Pahau Mackey, 9 Matt Hall, 10 Shaun Rafferty, 11 Andy McRobert, 12 Michael Begley, 13 Angus Williams, 14 Aidan Whiteley, 15 Craig Lewis.
BATHURST BULLDOGS 20 defeated DUBBO KANGAROOS 18
IN 1998 it was hooker Chris Duffy who took over as Bulldogs coach, with Damien Grant acting as assistant.
Duffy's men had won two of their three games against 'Roos during the season, but it was Dubbo that had hosting rights for the grand final.
Still Duffy had faith in his men saying: "We have great team spirit and camaraderie, which really counts when things get tough."
It took a penalty goal off the boot of replacement Don Varcoe five minutes from full-time to seal the win, but Bathurst did have to survive a nervous moment after the siren.
Dubbo flyhalf Marty Nelson had a 53-metre penalty goal attempt, but his long-range shot which came after Bulldogs were pinged for being off-side fell short.
Prop Tuma Aisake scored Bulldogs' only try, while fullback Marty Roebuck booted penalty goals and flyhalf Richard Bromhead slotted a field goal. Peter Waters scored a brace for Dubbo.
Duffy spent the final minutes of the match laying on a stretcher in a neck brace after pinching a nerve, but he was still delighted.
"We set the standard for others to follow," he said.
BATHURST BULLDOGS: 1 Tuma Aisake, 2 Chris Duffy, 3 Peter Candy, 4 Scott Connor, 5 Shane Cantrill, 6 Tom McLaren, 7 Bruno Rossitt, 8 Pahau Mackey, 9 Damien Jenkins, 10 Richard Bromhead, 11 Ben De Witt, 12 Michael Begley, 13 Michael Palmer, 14 Pip McIntosh, 15 Marty Roebuck.
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