The dying seconds of the 2020 West Wyalong Knockout grand final on Saturday night came down to one player: Mitchell Cornish.
The Goulburn Bulldogs five-eighth showed the composure which earned him the 2019 Les McIntyre Medal, and kicked a field goal which propelled the Bulldogs to a 11-10 win over the Nowra Bomaderry Jets.
It was the second time in two years that Goulburn won the knockout, an effort which coach Adam Kyle said left the squad exhausted but filled with confidence.
"Everyone was tired, definitely tired [laughs]," Kyle said.
"Four games in 24 hours of pretty intense football ... there were some really good quality teams that we came up against.
"To come away with the prize money and the trophy and defend our title too is something the boys have really taken a lot of confidence from."
Though they successfully defended their title, the Bulldogs were far from their best throughout the two-day competition which ran across February 28 and 29.
The early rounds of the competition were low-scoring, with a 10-6 win over the Wagga Kangaroos in round one, a 6-0 win over the Woden Rams in the quarter final, and a 12-4 win over the South City Bulls in the semi-final.
What pleased Kyle most was the consistent show of grit, particularly in defense, which sometimes went missing in 2019.
"To be honest, we didn't probably play our best football over the whole weekend," he said.
"We were really scrappy in attack, but the thing I was most proud of was we only conceded two tries in three games leading up to the final."
Goulburn's cause was not helped by the early loss of halfback Nicholas Cornish to injury, but Kyle glowingly praised the two youngsters - Tom Croker and Max Flack - who replaced him.
"Young Tom Croker stepped up into half for the rest of the tournament and was outstanding," he said.
"[He] and young Max Flack, who are both still eligible for our Under 19s, both played every minute of every game after that.
"Some of the efforts from Tommy Croker over the weekend in defence and attack were really good.
"We've got some pretty special juniors coming through our system at the moment."
Though the players are still in the process of gelling together as a unit, Kyle is satisfied with their progress to this point.
"It's a bit of a jigsaw over a preseason, we can't just dump everything at one time on the boys," Kyle said.
"We're in that building process at the moment, where our conditioning's really good and I'm pretty happy with where our defence is.
"Over the next month there'll be a fair bit of work on our attacking shape and attacking structure.
"Considering some of the attacking potency we've got in our side, I'm really excited about what we'll put up."
The Bulldogs will have another chance to test their progress against Mittagong on Saturday, March 21, at the Goulburn Workers Arena.
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