Murgon fans were ecstatic on Saturday and no wonder - it’s been almost 15 years since a Mustangs captain hoisted the South Burnett Rugby League trophy in triumph at the end of a senior grand final.
The decider between last year’s premiers Cherbourg and Murgon was played on the neutral turf of the Wondai Sportsgrounds.
There was a festive atmosphere at the ground with blue and white balloons everywhere, a sea of orange supporters and even a jumping castle for the kids.
Spectators filled the ground, including in some temporary stands erected for the occasion.
The Mustangs players would have been confident they had the measure of the Hornets after only losing in the final minute to them in the major semi-final a fortnight ago; but this had set them up for a tough preliminary final game against Nanango last week which they only won at the death knell.
The Hornets, in comparison, were coming into the game rested after a week off.
Cherbourg Mayor Arnold Murray conducted a Welcome to Country ceremony and a minute’s silence was held before the players ran on to the field through guards of honour formed by their fans.
The match between Murgon and Cherbourg – who finished the season with equal points on the ladder – was always going to be exciting arm wrestle, and the players didn’t disappoint.
It was high-scoring and the kicking by Cherbourg’s Lewis Hopkins in particular was magnificent.
The Hornets opened the game strongly, with tries within a few minutes to Fred Cobbo and Nathan Gadd. Lewis Hopkins converted both and the score was 12-0.
But then just four minutes later, Murgon did the same. Coby Sullivan and then Carl Aubrey scored and Jameel Sullivan kicked both goals.
The scores were locked at 12-12.
At the mid-point of the half and after some tough lead-up work, Thomas Simpson muscled his way over the line to break the deadlock for the Hornets. Hopkins converted and Cherbourg were back in the lead.
This looked like it would be the halftime score until Keith Gadd Jnr received a sharp pass from Bernard Hopkins in front of the posts and went over. Lewis Hopkins’ kick after the siren was good, so Cherbourg went into the break ahead 24-12.
After the game resumed, Gadd scored again almost immediately. Lewis Hopkins made it five out of five conversions, extending the Hornets’ lead to 30-12, but there was no way Murgon were going to be daunted by that scoreboard.
First, Michael Giles forced his way over the line, followed only minutes later by back-to-back tries by Norman Neliman. Sullivan kicked two out of the three conversions, putting Murgon just two points behind, 30-28.
With 26 minutes left, a Cherbourg player was sent off for a dangerous tackle which left the Hornets’ defence stretched at times against a Mustangs team that was full of running.
Two minutes later, Barwoo Fisher scored near the posts for Murgon, putting the Mustangs into the lead for the first time. Sullivan added the extras to give Murgon a four-point lead.
However, Cherbourg weren’t about to quit either.
Gadd scored his third try of the day to again even the scores, 34-34. Hopkins’ kick put the Hornets back in the lead with about 19 minutes to go.
A few minutes later, Maurice Fisher crossed for Cherbourg. Hopkins kicked his seventh goal of the day to make the score 42-34 to the Hornets.
As the minutes ticked down, neither side looked to be making headway with attacking runs and desperate defence.
With eight minutes to go, Carl Aubrey made a breakthrough run to score his second try and narrow the gap to 42-38.
Hornets players were starting to look anxious with one warning quite loudly, “we could lose this,” and so it proved.
Four minutes later, Mustangs’ Barwoo Fisher grabbed possession of the ball deep in his own quarter and ran almost the length of the field with Hornets in hot pursuit.
He grounded the ball under the posts, setting up an easy conversion for Sullivan, gifting Murgon the lead, 44-42.
Despite desperate attacks by Cherbourg on the Mustangs’ line in the next few minutes, that was the score when the fulltime siren sounded.
Murgon’s Barwoo Fisher was announced the player of the final for his efforts in attack, particularly scoring the match-winning try.
Barwoo Fisher receiving the player of the final shield. PHOTO: Anne Miller
In the earlier Under 16s grand final, the Nanango Stags dominated against Cherbourg.
The young Hornets looked to be still recovering from their tough preliminary final game against Kingaroy the week before.
The halftime score was 22-0 in favour of Nanango, but was not a true reflection of the distance between the sides.
With 15 minutes to go, the Hornets put their first points on the board, but in a tribute to the Stags’ defence, they held their lead and won 34-6 with the player of the final honours awarded to Kaia Williams (Nanango).
Nanango Stags - 2017 SBRL Under 16 Premiers. PHOTO: Anne Miller
The Chinchilla Bulldogs proved too strong for Murgon in a close Under 14 grand final.
The halftime score had Chinchilla ahead 20-10.
The Mustangs kept on pressing but couldn’t catch the Bulldogs, who won 32-16.
Chinchilla’s tries were scored by Ky Taaffe (3), Joe Dwyer (2), Bryton Nimo and Patterson Bannister. Blake Moore kicked two goals. Taaffe also picked up the player of the final.
Murgon’s tries were scored by Lennox Bligh (2) and Glen Fisher with Fisher kicking two goals.
The Murgon Mustangs started off their grand final day campaign with a win in the Under 12s decider over Nanango.
The Mustangs were ahead 20-6 at halftime, but the young Stags made a strong comeback in the second half to threaten Murgon’s lead.
The final score was 30-22.
Murgon’s try scorers were Kevin Langton (3), Dion Sandow-Walsh (2) and Joseph Meikle. Goals were kicked by Sandow-Walsh, Nathan Roderick and Lachlan Brunjes.
Nanango’s try scorers were Matthew McAuliffe (3) and Ryan Keating. Goals were kicked by Keating, Jayden Tewes-Smallwood and Blake Manthey.
In extension to scoring a hattrick, Langton was also announced the player of the final.