COACH Dan Beckett marvelled at the way the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union representative side handled the weight of expectation and rallied to beat Illawarra 28-18 in the final of the NSW Country Championships in Tamworth yesterday to secure an unprecedented sixth straight Caldwell Cup.
Newcastle trailed Illawarra 13-3 midway through the first half. But, like they did in the 31-21 win against Central North on Saturday, they found a way back, scoring 25 unanswered points to take control.
Illawarra crossed for a try at the death, but it was purely consolation.
‘‘These guys have been under so much pressure with the expectation of winning six,’’ Beckett said.
‘‘Everyone kept saying they had to win six.
‘‘You still have to play rugby, and these guys dealt with it better than any squad I have been with.
‘‘Illawarra were an outstanding side and very physical. They were huge.
‘‘We had to absorb that and we showed the little guy can beat the big guy.
‘‘Once we were able to play the way we wanted, in the heat against big opposition, I knew they would really struggle at the back end of the game.
‘‘It was a fantastic win and everything we wanted to stand for.
‘‘It was a real show of mental toughness.’’
The most Caldwell Cups, the holy grail of Country rugby, any zone had previously won was three.
But Newcastle have been unstoppable since winning in 2008, ending an eight-year drought, and are again expected to dominate the NSW Country Cockatoos squad named tomorrow.
‘‘We deserve a strong representation, winning it,’’ Beckett said.
‘‘And in the end we played some outstanding football.’’