The Whitsunday Brahmans have won the 2015 Mackay and District Rugby League Mine Wealth and Wellbeing A-Grade Premiership, defeating minor premiers the Sarina Crocodiles in front of the biggest crowd in over a decade at Stadium Mackay.
Both teams were ushering in a new Era for Mackay rugby league, the winners would be the first new champions crowned in four seasons.
Sarina were riding high on confidence after not only winning the MDRL Minor Premiership, but eliminating the four-time reigning champions Souths Sharks to book their place in the Grand Final.
Whitsunday meanwhile were quietly confident they could upstage their more fancied opponents after their thrilling 18-16 win in the Qualifying Final over Sarina that saw them earn a week’s rest and a Grand Final berth.
After the formalities of the National Anthem were over, two of the biggest forward packs in the MDRL were set to collide on the biggest day of the competition. There were no signs of any nerves from either side through the opening stages as big hits and gang tackles showed the intensity that had been bought for the occasion.
Sarina were awarded the first penalty of the game and they marched deep into Whitsunday territory for the first real crack at points. It looked like the Crocs would break the deadlock early when a short pass found potent finisher Ben Lui, but the pass was forwards from his inside man and the try was disallowed.
Sarina showed some ill-discipline in front of their own posts shortly after, and Whitsunday were awarded a penalty. But rather than press the advantage with field position, Phil Ramage stepped up and slotted an easy penalty goal to give Whitsunday first points and a 2-0 lead.
Sarina’s hands let them down on their next attacking raid, spilling the ball deep in the Whitsunday red zone. The Brahmans were piggy-backed out of trouble with a penalty, and they peppered the Sarina try line looking for more points.
Ramage managed to get his hands free in a two man tackle and pop an offload out the back for his support player, who floated a beautiful cut-out pass to his winger David Kay for the first try of the match. Ramage missed his sideline conversion and the score stayed 6-0.
Some more sloppy play from Sarina saw a potential match-levelling try go begging, and the Brahmans almost made them pay at the other end of the field when Ivan Petelo dived for the try line from close range, but the Sarina defenders were equal to the task and managed to hold him up over the line.
But the Brahmans wouldn’t be denied twice as yet another handling error from the Crocs gifted them good field position. A quick sweeping backline play from the scrum base saw Jack Briscoe link up with Anthony Blackwood to overlap the Sarina defence and touch down in the corner for Whitsunday’s second try. The gap remained at 10 when Ramage pushed his kick wide of the posts.
Unfazed, Sarina continued to push for points. Guyai Nona tried to spark his team with a neat wrap around play, but the Brahmans held firm. With the frustration levels rising from the Sarina side, some niggle in a tackle sparked a wild all-in-brawl with punches thrown from both sides. Grant Cooke and Lain Wyper were the guilty parties, both sin-binned for their involvement.
The Crocs were in good field position off the back of the ensuing penalty and desperate to finally get on the board. Some good passing saw Dean Hall in some space, who in turn found Lewis Galbraith unmarked out wide to score in the corner for Sarina. The angle proved too difficult for Ben Lui to convert from and the margin remained at a converted try.
Sarina were thanking the Rugby League Gods as the halftime siren sounded when a dazzling attacking raid from Whitsunday proved fruitless. The ball went through three sets of hands as the Brahmans tore 80 meters downfield through the heart of the Crocs defence.
A desperation kick back to the midfield saw David Kay came agonisingly close to bagging his second try, but the ball trickled across the dead ball line as he stuck out his hand and the end of the half was signalled. Whitsunday headed to the sheds with a 10-4 lead as the massive crowd gave both teams a big reception.
The Crocs came out firing for the second half, desperate to convert their chances into points. A deflection off a fifth tackle kick saw Sarina gifted a full set of six inside the Brahmans 20 metre zone, and they would make no mistake in seizing the opportunity as Dean Hall sliced through a hole in the sliding Whitsunday defence and powered over to score.
Lui came as close as he possible to levelling the game, but his sideline conversion kick hit the left upright and bounced away to leave his team trailing by 2.
The Brahmans blew a golden opportunity to take control of the contest after Darcy Wright made a huge line break against the tiring Sarina forward pack. David Kay turned villain though when he dropped the ball cold against the still out of sorts Sarina defence. But a mistake on the following set saw Sarina gift Whitsunday yet another attacking opportunity, and they needed no second invitation as Alex Clare sprinted onto a short ball to score a crucial try. Ramage pushed the lead to 16-8 with his successful conversion.
With the Sarina side down on confidence and out on their feet the Brahmans sensed the opportunity was coming to close the game out. Some powerful runs had them eating up the metres, before a missed tackle saw Ramage into open space and sprinting clear. A quick play the ball caught the struggling Sarina defenders off guard and Dane Vardanega put Darcy Wright into a hole to score the try and begin the party for the Brahmans as the score shot to 20-8.
With the minutes counting down and the Brahmans fans all around Stadium Mackay beginning to celebrate, Ramage iced the cake with a coolly slotted field goal to give his team an unassailable 13 point lead.
Ben Lui refused to lie down for Sarina though and even with the fulltime siren blaring he produced a magical chip and chase for himself and planted the Steeden down centimetres inside the dead ball line to give the Crocodiles one last hurrah. He pushed his conversion attempt wide as the clock struck zero, and the Brahmans had defeated the Crocodiles by a score of 21 points to 12 to win the 2015 MDRL Premiership.
The emotion of the occasion came to the fore as the referee blew fulltime; Brahmans fans and players celebrated with wild jubilation as Crocodiles players slumped to their haunches in agonising defeat. The bitterness was forgotten as the players shook hands and gathered for the presentation of the MDRL Premiership trophy.
Darcy Wright took out Stuart Cruickshank Medal honours as man of the match, before Whitsunday captain Dane Vardanega was presented with the Mackay and District Rugby League A-Grade Premiership trophy by MDRL CEO Ross Aldridge and Mine Wealth and Wellbeing representative Mike McLeod.
The win capped off a successful day for the Brahmans, after their reserve grade team won the John Donnelly Good Guys Reserve Grade Premiership with a 30-4 victory over the Moranbah Miners.