Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
In this case, the iceman.
Relishing the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Saturday’s Central West Junior Rugby Union under 17s grand final, Narromine inside centre Alex Heap kicked his side to a second straight premiership – the same group won last year’s under 15s title.
The Gorillas downed a gallant Dubbo Rhinos side in an epic at Orange’s Endeavour Oval, thank to two clutch Heap penalty goals.
Deep into the second half of extra-time and with the scores locked at 24-24, referee Chris Reynolds awarded the Gorillas a penalty 20 out and a little to the right of the sticks.
Heap made no mistake, handing Narromine a 27-24 victory and with it the premiership.
About 10 minutes earlier, he’d nailed another three-pointer to send the game into extra-time.
After Rhinos scored to lead 24-21 with 90 seconds left in the game, Narromine worked its way up field and won a penalty on last play.
Heap slotted it, from the same distance but to the left of the posts.
Did he feel the pressure?
“Not really, no. I practice a lot, I did plenty during the week so you just go through the routine and back yourself,” Heap, somewhat emotional and slightly lost for words, said.
“It’s just excellent, this is what we play for.”
“He practices, so much,” Narromine coach Shane Bodium confirmed.
“When we finish training, he stays back and kicks and kicks and kicks. This is the result.”
Incredibly, after George Kennedy scored for the Dubbo side with just over a minute left, both Heap and Bodium remained confident the Gorillas would find a way.
“No, I knew we had it in us,” Heap said when asked if, at that point, he was thinking the premiership might’ve slipped through his side’s fingers.
“We always had our heads up, the talk was all positive it was just a matter of getting the footy back and trying to get a chance.”
“When the referee awarded the try I actually turned to our trainer and said ‘we can still win this’. Two weeks ago (in the major semi-final) we scored in the 80th minute to win against Orange City, so we’d done it before,” Bodium added.
“We just needed to get the ball back. I knew if we did that we’d fall into our structures and would be able to control it, which we did.
“It was an amazing effort, and it was an awesome game from both sides. Rhinos play great rugby, their effort was pretty huge.”
Rhinos had come from fourth to make the decider, knocking off Mudgee and then Orange City in sudden-death finals to earn a grand final appearance.
Narromine, on the other hand, lost just four games – one to Rhinos, incidentally – on its way to second, and from the first 10 minutes alone punters would’ve been forgiven for suggesting the clash could be a blowout.
The Gorillas raced to a 14-0 lead in the first seven minutes, after tighthead prop John Corderoy set-up a quick-fire double for outside centre Eric Dayes.
Both were scored in the left corner, Heap nailing both sideline conversions. He’d nail one more before slotting the pair of penalties, kicking at 100 per cent for the afternoon.
But Rhinos hadn’t seen the ball yet.
The Dubbo side, as exciting to watch with ball in hand as any in the region, opened its account as soon as it did control some possession.
Five-eighth Will Allen, who was electric and his side’s best, sliced through first phase off a scrum and nailed the conversion to cut the gap to seven.
Narromine’s response was swift, Corderoy burrowing his way over for a well-deserved five-pointer.
Rhinos hit back just as quickly, and did so a second time two minutes later.
Charlie Kempston strolled over in the corner, before No.8 Charlie Spora crossed. Allen converted one and Narromine’s lead remained a slim one at 21-19.
The clash turned on its head in the second half.
If the first period was every fan of attacking rugby’s dream, the second half was the defensive equivalent.
While both sides maintained their run first, kick second mentality, the Gorillas and Rhinos went to another level without the ball.
It took until the second last minute for any more points to be scored, although both sides had chances.
Rhinos had a couple of opportunities early in the second period, but it was Narromine that enjoyed the bulk of possession, territory and point-scoring chances.
From the seventh minute of the second period onward, the Gorillas camped in Rhinos’ half – until Kennedy’s late try, of course.
The Gorillas threw everything at Rhinos.
But the Dubbo side’s wall held, and their ability to turn the ball over in their own half was incredible. They were fearless defensively, a trait born from having nothing to lose against the competition heavyweights.
Finally Rhinos escaped their own half and with just minutes left on the clock inside centre James Nelson busted the line after a scrum, he was brought down five metres out but the Gorillas were penalised.
Incredibly, despite being in prime position to kick a penalty that would give them the lead, Rhinos took a quick tap.
It worked in their favour, Kennedy pushing over, before Heap’s first clutch effort.
The first period of extra-time was much the same, both sides creating chances to score but not taking them.
Deep, deep into the second-period of overtime, it looked like the Gorillas had scored.
In support of a half-break, loosehead prop Jacob Taylor latched onto an offload and dived over.
Reynolds disallowed it for a forward pass but the Gorillas had penalty advantage and skipper Lachie Bible had no second thoughts about pointing to the sticks.
Heap nailed it, again.
“The boys are all pretty disappointed, and I think we might have been a touch unlucky at the end there but that’s rugby,” Rhinos coach Darryl Thompson said.
“A lot of teams wouldn’t have come back (from 21-7 down) but we did, we came back and fought right to the end.
“We do have a lot of rugby league talent in this side but we’re getting better at those little technical things at the breakdown, we turned the ball over well in the second half.
“I couldn’t be prouder, we beat every team in the competition to get here, it was an excellent performance.”
Incredibly, both the grand final sides are made up of predominantly bottom-age players.
“There’s only three under 17s in this team,” Bodium said.
“The rest are under 16s, the group that won last year’s under 15s competition. You think of their age as a group, it’s a pretty special win.”
“We’re mainly under 16s players as well,” Thompson said.
“There’s a good portion of younger players, it’s great for their development to see them go this far and that’s what junior rugby’s about, development. It’s good for the region.”
- NARROMINE GORILLAS 27 (Eric Dayes 2, John Corderoy tries; Alex Heap 3 conv, 2 pen goals) def DUBBO RHINOS 24 (Will Allen, Charlie Spora, Greg Kennedy, Charlie Kempston tries; Allen 2 conv)