After 12 years of heartbreak and toil, the Crookwell Green Devils finally claimed a long-deserved premiership title on Saturday against the North Canberra Bears.
Played at Crookwell Memorial Oval in front of a vociferous crowd, the Green Devils took to the field as heavy favourites over the Bears.
Once both teams were on the park, it was clear how much of a size advantage that North Canberra held over the home side, along with a reputation for scrappiness of which Crookwell coach Chris Chudleigh was wary.
“I watched them the last two semis, and they came from behind in both of them,” Chudleigh said.
“They don’t go away.”
Indeed, the Bears had anything but an easy path to the final. After an elimination final loss to the Harden Hawks – who were the 2017 champions – they triumphed over the Boorowa Rovers 30-14 and followed that with an even tighter 12-15 rebound win over the Hawks in the preliminary final.
The Green Devils played half the number of matches that the Bears did during finals, and it showed early on Saturday.
Crookwell went into the break leading 16-0, following an “unreal” first half according to Chudleigh.
However, the Bears tightened up their game during the break, and fought back hard in the final 40 minutes.
“We were on the wrong end of a bad penalty count, was the biggest thing [in the second half],” Chudleigh said.
“I don’t think we completed a set for the first ten minutes. You’ve just gotta complete sets in these sort of games, or you’re tackling the whole half.”
The first half saw Crookwell play to the same formula that had proved so effective throughout the year. A hard run up the middle of the ground was followed by a sharp move out to the wing late in each set, and the Bears’ propensity for errors in the first half often allowed the Green Devils repeat sets near the tryline.
The difference, once the Bears began to tighten the screws, was Crookwell captain Ben Picker at dummy half. His ability to keep opponents guessing and provide the Devils with endless offensive variety was rewarded with a try, an assist, and the Man of the Match award following the 22-16 win.
The victory also marked Joey Picker’s final game, which provided some added motivation for the Green Devils according to Ben.
“Joey said halfway through the year that it was probably gonna be his last year,” he said.
“That’s just another way to cap off a Grand Final win, to send Joey out a winner.”
Looking forward to 2019, Picker continued to say that the Green Devils have a “good bunch of young [players], and if they can stay together … there could be more premierships to come.”