THE Karuah Roos were positively jubilant and absolutely spent.
After what they thought had been 80 minutes of bruising D-grade rugby league, Roos players all over Harker Oval thrust both arms into the air in celebration. Then, they launched themselves into a big, sweaty group hug in the middle of the ground. Off to the side, one bloke attempted a cartwheel. There would have been tears if they could have mustered the moisture.
The Roos had hung on to win 24-20 over the Hinton Hornets and claim their first premiership since 1975.
Or so they thought.
As most of the Karuah lads continued the hugging, backslapping and high-fiving that is customary with any grand final win, a few other players raised their hands again.
But this time it was more bewilderment and perplexity than celebration.
Up in the commentary box, the BarTV crew had responded to the sound of the siren with the same level of confusion.
“That’s the hooter” one commentator said, quizzically. “I didn’t hear a hooter, did you hear a hooter?”
“Hang on boys, I think we’ve got an issue here,” another commentator said.
“Issue or not the referee has called full-time,” the first commentator said. “There is nothing we can do about it. “We can’t continue play if the referee has called full-time, we can’t go back.”
That’s what Topics thought, too.
We’d never see a referee call full-time, head for the sheds and then change his mind. It’d be like awarding a try and then taking the points off the board.
But that’s exactly what happened next.
As the Roos and Hornets were shaking hands, the referee appeared again, flanked by his touch judges, he trotted back onto the field and packed a scrum, giving the feed to the Hornets.
Hornets players had to lift themselves of the turf. Protests from the Roos were waved away. There was two more minutes to play.
On the next tackle, a Hornets player spilled the ball. The Roos would win anyway. All was right with the world. Balance had been restored to the universe. No. Penalty. The Hornets went deep on attack.
They got within centimetres of the try-line, but each time were repelled by a wall of Roos defenders.
Then the siren sounded for real. The game was over. The Roos had won. They hardly even celebrated.
The story from the Karuah camp was that there had been problems with the siren all day at Harker Oval on Saturday.
At half-time the referee hadn’t heard it sound, and, despite calls from the sideline, had simply played on.
But, bizarrely, at “full-time” he’d heard a siren no one else had. That, or there was one of those dreaded phantom sirens in the crowd. Either way it was extraordinary and unprecedented. But bizarrely fitting for the Roos, who had come back from 30-6 down the week before against Gloucester to win 32-31. A real underdog team, a group of knockabout blokes, the Roos had been waiting 41 years to claim a premiership for Karuah. Another two minutes wasn’t going to matter. Topics should declare that we’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Roos.
Two years ago, on the eve of the 2014 D-grade grand final, we headed north to visit the small riverside town, which had been bypassed by upgrades to the Pacific Highway a decade earlier.
The purpose of our visit was to write a story about how the team was providing an identity for the people of Karuah and a source of inspiration and aspiration.
They got done that year, going down 25-18 to rivals Williamtown.
So it was good to see them claim a win and give a small town down on its luck something to cheer about.