Try machine centre and co-captain Jensen Deamer claimed a double as Wests Panthers took out the Bundaberg Under 18 premiership for the second time in three years on Saturday night.
But they had to dig deep to defeat home-town heroes Wallaroos 22-18 in the grand final played at Eskdale Park, Maryborough.
After Deamer crossed in the left corner in the fourth minute; impact interchange front rower Damon Qualischefski surged over under the posts nine minutes later and their co-captain and hooker Joel Baldwin converted, the Panthers looked in control.
But Roos regrouped quickly and hit the front with back-to-back tries, firstly to their perennial try-scoring winger Lochlan Greenfield; then wrecking ball front rower and captain Keian Grogan, with both converted by the trusty Tom Colvin.
However, Wests established an 18-12 halftime ascendancy with two more quick tries, with representative touch star Sam Woodman - who has gone from strength to strength in 2020 - catching the ball from an exquisitely-placed kick across field by halfback Brendan Grills, then Baldwin scoring a signature try from dummy-half.
Deamer finished off a superb team try for his double seven minutes into the second stanza before Grogan and Wests’ rugged interchange forward Aaron Cunnington were sin-binned for their involvement in a scuffle.
In their absence, Wallaroos clawed their way back with crafty hooker Bailey Eckert forcing his way over under the posts and Colvin again kicking truly to get them back to within four points with 16 minutes remaining.
Carrying momentum and with their big forwards continually charging into the fray, Roos went on the attack, forcing set after set with their boisterous home crowd behind them. But somehow, the red and black army kept repelling them in what Panthers coach Rick McMaster said was where they won the match.
“To hold them out for six sets was amazing," McMaster said. "Marcy (Tanner) went for an intercept but missed it, but then went straight from the scrum and nailed him (ball carrier) and he lost the ball, then we got down the other end.
"If we didn’t defend there, they would have had another set and they would have had to score."
The Panthers had the chance to clinch the game from a superb 40/20 kick with less than six minutes remaining, but their last pass went into touch, meaning the result went right down to the wire.
The Roos threw everything at them, but Wests put their bodies on the line time after time and held on for a deserved victory, finishing with five tries to three after having also beaten their Maryborough rivals in their three fixtures meetings.
Still, Wallaroos were magnificent in defeat.
McMaster said playing just two games since August due to receiving two forfeits and having last week off as minor premiers made it even more difficult for them against a match-hardened team.
“We knew it was going to be tough," the Wests coach said.
"They have bigger boys and at night, they were not going to fatigue as much, but both teams left it all out there and that’s the way a good final should be played.
"We made it even tougher, giving them a few piggy-backs up field, but our defence was just great.
“Then to lose Connor Black, a major middle player for us, with a fractured tibia early in the game made it even tougher, but we showed a lot of character and the boys learnt a bit about themselves."
McMaster, a former A Grade premiership winner for the club in a long and distinguished career, took the reins this year after being assistant to Mick Laybutt last season.
“I made a pact with the boys at the end of last year," McMaster said.
"I felt sorry the way it ended (beaten in minor semi-final after leading the competition for much of the season before slipping to fourth).
"We buried the skeleton and to do it with a great bunch of boys is great, and I can’t thank (club president) Corey Tanner enough and club legends Jimmy Prichard and Josh Tanner for coming to training and games and helping out.
"Their knowledge and presence was unbelievable."
Baldwin took out the player of the final award, but McMaster said there were many players who contributed to their title win.
For Deamer, Baldwin, Grills and Tanner, it was their seventh premiership for the club since each starting together in under 7s.
Baldwin, whose mother Mechelle is the team manager and father Shane is a trainer, said this grand final win was definitely up there with the best highlights of his career.
“The win really felt special because we knew the other teams this year would be really strong, the fact that all the West boys are really good mates off the field just makes it feel really good as well,” Baldwin said.
“I was surprised to be named player of the match because a number of boys played outstanding.
"Brad Clarke and Marcus Tanner were exceptional for us, and our whole left edge were very good in attack as well with Lochlan Modrow, Jensen Deamer and Sam Woodman.”
Deamer described it as the toughest game he has ever played in and said it was the great mateship in the team which carried them through.
“We all play for each other and we all did not want to let anyone down," the Panthers centre said.
"We have been outstanding all year and to top it off with another great game makes this one the best of them all."
Deamer was hoping to trial for either the Redcliffe Dolphins or Sunshine Coast Falcons Hastings Deering Colts teams for next season, but if that does not eventuate, he will not have not have much rest and rejuvenation until A Grade pre-season training starts at Wests under coach Corey Tanner in early December.
The win had extra significance for Flynn Purkis, coming up to the second anniversary of the death of his mother Leisa and sister Emerson in a car accident in which he was also a passenger.
“I always write their names on my wrist every time I play school, club or rep footy, and I always dedicate my games to them,” Purkis said.
The prop, who has also played for the Panthers since starting in under 7s, also said it was the toughest game he has played in his rugby league career.
“It was just sheer determination that won it, Purkis said. "We would not let the game slip away and dug deep in the trenches for each other.
"It is the best one (premiership) yet, considering it was a senior one; just the bond, we had and the atmosphere."
Bundaberg under 18 grand final result
Wests Panthers 22 (Jensen Deamer 2, Sam Woodman, Joel Baldwin, Damon Qualischefski tries; Joel Baldwin goal) defeated Wallaroos 18 (Lochlan Greenfield, Bailey Eckart, Keian Grogan tries; Tom Colvin 3 goals)