Bathurst Panthers five-eighth and goalkicker Willie Wright told his captain-coach Doug Hewitt during the week that should the opportunity arise in Sunday’s grand final, he’d win the game for him.
Little did he know he’d do exactly that.
With less than four minutes remaining in the Group 10 premier league decider against the Cowra Magpies at Sid Kallas Oval on Sunday, Wright got his opportunity and lived up to his word, knocking over the match-winning goal to seal a thrilling 12-10 win.
To make it even sweeter, the successful conversion was struck directly in front of the Panthers’ faithful on the eastern side of the ground, from all but the sideline.
The victory marked Panthers’ first Group 10 premier league title since 2007.
“I told Dougie during the week that if it was on me to win the game, I told him I’d do it for him,” Wright said after the game.
“This is what goalkicking is about, it’s what you dream of. Cowra’s been the benchmark all year and to do it right in front of our crowd there’s nothing more enjoyable.”
Panthers trailed 10-nil at the break after conceding two early tries in the opening 13 minutes.
Cowra hooker Benji John went himself from dummy-half to open the scoring before centre Lee McClintock, one of Cowra’s best on the day, finished off a sweeping play from left to right.
It was in the 57th when the deadlock was broken with Panthers’ lock Blake Hewitt crashing over and Wright converting to reduce the deficit to 10-6.
With minutes remaining and still trailing 10-6, Panthers winger Andrew Mendes scored the equaliser and Wright’s opportunity arose. “I told the boys I made a commitment to them this year. They called me up, no one knew me. For them to give me a call and introduce me to the team I couldn’t be more proud now.
Players were mobbed by fans at the full-time siren moments later and the Panthers’ victory song was sung.
Hewitt lifted the Western Challenge Cup soon after and Panthers powerhouse Brent Seager was presented the Dave Scott Medal for player of the match.
“With the way we’ve been kicking all year, I wasn’t sure,” Hewitt laughed, when asked if he was confident Wright would knock the match-winner over. “But Willie lives for those kinds of moments, I just, I’m completely lost for words, what an effort. It’s a credit to everyone involved in the club.”
Cowra coach Steve Sutton felt for his players, particularly the ones who have been around the club for years.
“We started really well and came up with some points. We sort of lost our way in the second-half and couldn’t get any momentum. They were good enough to capitalise and that’s the way it goes,” Sutton says.