Fifty years of disappointments are wiped away as Macleay Valley captain-coach Willie Lockwoodd hoists that elusive premiership shield.
Fifty years of disappointments are wiped away as Macleay Valley captain-coach Willie Lockwoodd hoists that elusive premiership shield. Rob Wright

Magic Mustangs fire in decider

MAGNIFICENT Macleay Valley are the 2012 Group 2 Rugby League first grade premiers.

The Mustangs outplayed minor premiers Nambucca Heads at Coronation Park to record an epic 36-12 victory in an often brutal grand final.

The first tackle of the match was a 'coat hanger' and there were many - many - robust disagreements between the opposing players before the last whistle sounded.

Around two-thirds of those engaged were either blood relatives or best mates ... but that hardly mattered.

No quarter was asked for or given.

Not a soul left the ground complaining they hadn't just witnessed a sensational spectacle with lengthy patches of breathtaking attacking play, interspersed with huge hits and immense bravery.

Winning captain-coach Willie Lockwood has spent two seasons in command of Macleay being modest about his own part in creating history, preferring to switch the spotlight to his young stars.

But the veteran playmaker can't escape his place in league history as the first man to take a team from the river-side town to a top grade premiership since the club's octogenarian time-keeper Lloyd Hudson achieved the feat with Central Kempsey in 1962.

Over the past 50 years, many have tried.

Only Lockwood has succeeded.

"Half a century don't matter, we've finally won," he said, wiping away the tears and sweat.

"Gee, we're going to celebrate tonight.

"Go the 'Stangs."

The Mustangs ambushed the Roosters with thunder and lightning and never let their hosts into the game.

Their first try followed a charge up the centre that almost saw Adam 'Chicken' McMurray crossing under the black dot but four defenders latched on to the big prop and turned him over in a cartwheel.

After the play-the-ball, the passes were pushed hard to the left with centre Cec Lardner getting on the outside of the defence to score in the comer.

That looked good but what followed next was a thing of rare beauty.

Five-eighth Malcolm Webster chipped over the top from his own 40m line and Nambucca inexplicably allowed the ball to bounce on their 40m strip.

Webster regathered and passed to Anthony Cowan who raced 10 metres down the right flank before the defence caught up.

Cowan came back infield to link again with Webster who passed to skipper Lockwood who'd just entered the field.

Again the defence came swarming and again Webster took possession, before the last pass to Cowan saw the little hooker cruising through under the posts to the delight of a spellbound crowd.

Nambucca hit back but Lockwood went over just before the break for the try that clinched the title - even though it was still so far from the end.

"When they let an old fat fella in like that we must have been on the right track," he laughed.

"I knew Nambucca were in trouble then."

The Roosters bombed the last opportunity to turn their day around when Dion Marr had a try overturned soon after the resumption.

The gallant second-rower was arguably the best for his team but must have known in his heart the war was lost.

Marr did a spectacular tumble turn into the in-goal and looked devastated when referee Nathan Grace give the thumbs-down signal.

Not long after, Garry Jarrett was sin-binned for dissent and the rest as they say ... is history.

Coach Garren Stig said he knew at that moment there couldn't (and wouldn't) be a happy ending.

"We didn't play today to the pattern of how we trained," he admitted.

"For sure we did it last time when we beat them in the major semi two weeks back but not this time.

"Training was a specific way but somehow we couldn't carry it out.

"Unfortunately we saved our worst for last."

Stig couldn't believe the fury of the opening quarter hour, particularly Macleay's speed off the blocks.

"They turned up ready to play and were too good," he said.

"If Dion had got that try, maybe we could have started a comeback and really pushed them.

"But Macleay had too much wind up their sails and are a good side on a roll."

One of the great highlights of the afternoon was the demeanour of Lockwood on the field.

During stoppages, he continued to wave his arms to rev up the supporters.

By the end they roared and roared their approval from the bleachers every time he wagged a finger.

It was a big day for the Mustangs.

They won the junior title, came within two points of winning the reserve grade and scorched grass in the main event.

What is so amazing is that at the end of the 2009 season, the club was on its knees.

They couldn't fulfil their last fixture against Macksville and quiet intercessions were being made behind the scenes to Country Rugby League to conduct an intervention in the town to revive the game.

But three things changed all that.

Firstly, the ill-starred Dunghutti experiment ended and all league strands came together in one united district club.

Secondly, a small committee made the diehard decision that rugby league would not die in the town.

Led by Mike and Jenny Spalding - who shed blood and tears and continually argued a case against the odds for survival - conquered every obstacle in the way, some of their own making.

And finally, some genius handed the coaching reins to Willie Lockwood and gave him orders to assemble a winning combination.

The unflappable veteran has used guile, patience, cunning, force of personality and old-fashioned football nous to write a new page in the history books.

He may even have started a dynasty.

Finally - we don't wish to boast - but it's worth noting that in The Coffs Coast Advocate's pre-season feature, sporting editor Brad Greenshields predicted Macleay would eventually become the champion team of 2012, the only expert to do so.

MACLEAY VALLEY MUSTANGS 36 (C Lardner A Cowan P Thaiday W Lockwood M Webster J Taylor tries A Cowan 6 goals) bt NAMBUCCA HEADS ROOSTERS 12 (Taylor Hamilton-Giggins C Blair tries M Ronan 2 goals)

Scrums: Nambucca Heads 11-8

Penalties: Macleay Valley 15-14

Errors: Nambucca Heads 11, Macleay Valley 4

At Coronation Park, Nambucca Heads

Referee: Nathan Grace

Gate: $13,400 (approximately $3000 down on 2011 at the same venue)

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