By Tom Cullen
The Coonamble Rams have finally done it.
There were scenes of extreme elation at Warren’s Victoria Oval on Saturday 6 September as the Rams stole the Western Plains 2019 Rugby Union Premiership from the home-ground side. The Rams beat the Warren Pumas 39-38, winning on the stroke of full time in extra time with a match-winnning try from Ronnie Hertel.
It would have to go down as the greatest game of Western Plains rugby ever played, with the Rams once again finding themselves at 24 points all with Warren on the fulltime mark. This being the exact score and scenario in Nyngan the week before can only be described as bizarre, but this time the Rams had to come from 11 points behind with six minutes to go to claim victory.
Warren started the game on top as the Rams had a nervous start filled with unforced errors and not completing a lineout in the first ten minutes. Eventually Warren capitalised and were the first to score. This snapped the Rams out of their error ridden start and Sam Gray was able to get the boys on the board with a penalty goal to take the score to 7-3.
Slowly but surely the Rams started to take control of the game and it wasn’t long before the Rams scored with a slick blindside play from Alex Burnheim finding George Skuthorp who eventually put Wylie Waterford over to take the score to 8-7 the Rams way. The Rams struck twice again with tries to Matt Sheppard and Alex Burnheim in the first half taking the score at halftime to 18-14.
The Rams never looked worried and looked like the better team but Warren would not go away and stayed on the Rams heels right up until the final stages. Sam Gray slotted two penalty goals to take the Rams to 24-21 with eight minutes remaining. All the Rams had to do was close the game out.
With one minute remaining The Rams turned the ball over. A penalty was awarded to Warren and the siren sounded with Warren to take the kick at goal. From thirty-five meters out the Warren captain slotted it and the Rams felt deja vu as extra time would be played AGAIN.
It was heartbreaking for the Rams as they all but had the game in the bag. Extra time started the same way as the game did, with Warren capitalising on Coonamble’s errors and having all the possession in the first half.
The Rams tried desperately to regain the momentum but the scrum along with the Rams hopes were slowly fading. As the siren sounded for the end of the first half Will Burnhiem attempted to kick the ball dead to end play but it found the posts and rebounded straight into Warren’s arms scoring in the corner and taking their lead out to 11 with ten minutes left to play.
But the Rams never gave up, and with the experience of extra time the previous week, made a comeback never before seen from this writers eyes. It started with a fantastic effort from Jarrad Rae stepping back in off his wing, beating four players and scoring near the posts.
Sam Gray converted and the score was 38-34 with two minutes remaining. The Rams once again were on the charge and forty metres from Warren’s line knocked it on sending the Warren crowd roaring.
This was surely the game with one minute left on the clock. After Warren won the scrum the Rams forwards forced a turnover thanks to an aggressive counter ruck and were once again on the charge.
The referee called last play and the Rams had one last chance at victory. Matt Sheppard called for the ball. Adrian Davis ran an unders line decoy and Jarrad Rae on the wing was marked by his opposite number.
But no one was marking up on Ronnie Hertel in the middle. He dove over the line grounding the ball in the corner.
The referee had to talk to the touch judge for what seemed like an eternity but the look on the faces of the Warren players said it all. Victory to the Rams in the most dramatic of fashions with Ronnie Hertel going down as hero of the day.
The Rams supporters stormed the field and completed the ultimate fairy tale for the club. Will Burnheim was awarded player of the match and rightly deserved too as he was outstanding on Saturday.
Sam Gray also played well and made the difference with the boot as he slotted some kicks at goal under immense pressure. Nick Bush, like he has done all season, led from the front and accepted the cup holding it up to a great cheer from Coonamble’s outstanding supporter base who made the game feel like it was right at home.
The celebrations continued into the night at the Coonamble Golf Club and into Silly Sunday. Saturday’s Grand Final was a day of history-breaking too as it was the first time the Rams have won an away grand final in the Western Plains competition.
A feat everyone needs to be proud of. This concludes the Rams 2019 season and the club will do all the celebrating again plus celebrate its award winners at the presentation night on the 21 September.