Oberon went agonisingly close to winning their its Group 10 premier league title since 1975 on Sunday afternoon at Wade Park, but the Tigers will be forced to wait at least one more year after Orange CYMS’ captain Mick Sullivan broke their hearts in the 77th minute.
With the epic decider – which will go down as one of the greatest – deadlocked at 22-22 and just three minutes left on the clock, Sullivan stepped up from 20 metres out directly in front and slotted the match-winning field goal.
CYMS controlled possession for the remaining time, before Sullivan would down the clock with the final possession of the game by strolling around his own end, before booting the ball into touch and sparking wild celebrations among the green and gold faithful.
As you’d expect, Oberon captain-coach Luke Branighan was devastated after the full-time whistle.
Mainly because his side had dominated the clash for 60 minutes, shooting to a 14-0 lead after 15 minutes then leading 18-8 at half-time and 22-8 midway through the second period.
But CYMS roared back. Branighan admitted after the game he could feel it slipping away in the dying stages, the hosts running in three tries in the last 15 minutes to lock it up before Sullivan slotted his clutch one-pointer.
Considering the one-point margin, Branighan immediately pointed to his own goal-kicking struggles as a big factor.
He was superb on Sunday, nigh on the best on ground, but he kicked one conversion from four attempts on Sunday. Anton Wereta also had a crack, missing his only shot.
Not that those worries were restricted to Oberon, CYMS’ Ben McAlpine only kicked one from five.
“It is devastating, it was a big effort but to be fair goal-kicking’s come back to haunt us and it was a bit of a problem through the season,” Branighan said as his players picked themselves up from the turf.
“I’m pretty shattered at the moment but … I’m proud of my guys and we’re building something special at that club, we’re just not good enough at the moment.
“You have to give credit to CYMS, not many sides can come back from 22-8 down, so congratulations to them.
“We probably shouldn’t have been beaten from there, but I’m pretty honest with myself we had a couple of chances late and I’ve missed a couple of kicks, so I’ve probably cost us in the end.”
Sullivan was an understandably happy man after the game, even saying he’d done some work mid-week just in case the game came down to one kick.
“We actually did a bit of practice on field goals the other night,” a jubilant Sullivan laughed.
“If it was long-range it was probably Joey Duffy or Ben McAlpine, but close-range I’d back myself. Mate, I didn’t want to let the group down, not (after 2016’s loss).
“What a sensational effort, we were under the pump the whole game, it’s just grit.
“That’s five since I’ve been here, but this one’s by far the best. It’s just great for the club.”
Sullivan said his side “didn’t have the right to be that close to them” after going into the sheds trailing by just 10.
He’s not wrong either. On the back of Branighan’s stunning kicking game Oberon shot to a 10-0 lead in just six minutes, extending that lead to 14 points in the 15th minute.
At that stage CYMS hadn’t seen the Tigers’ half of the field and didn’t look likely to, until they scored against the run of play.
The two sides traded tries after that, to give the Tigers an 18-8 lead at the break.
“Oberon was playing on emotion, they’d had their best run leading in and we didn’t have the right to be that close to them, we could’ve been [down by even more],” Sullivan said.
“We just had to stick in there, we were in it. I said we needed to score first (after half-time), and we didn’t, but we stuck in there, we knew it would turn. Oberon had some tired boys in the middle after the effort they’d put in, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
CYMS started awfully, Oberon’s match-starting kick-off going dead after it was allowed to bounce.
The Tigers took advantage of the early possession and territory, running in two tries in the space of five minutes to shoot to a 10-0 lead.
First, Tui Oloapu dived on a Branighan grubber before the Tigers skipper sent play down the short side and Tyler Hughes dived over.
Branighan kicked the first, the first-up blitz sparking deafening noise from the thousands of Oberon fans at Wade Park.
The early onslaught didn’t stop there either. After back-to-back penalties, Branighan sliced through to score his own four-pointer.
He kicked a 40-20 three minutes later and then Anton Wereta forced a drop-out, but that restart was knocked on.
CYMS centre Joe Lasagavibau busted the line two tackles after the scrum, linking with Tom Satterthwaite who sprinted 60 metres to open the hosts’ account completely against the run of play.
McAlpine missed his chance to add the extras, cutting the deficit to 10 at 14-4, with 28 minutes gone.
It didn’t stay there for long, Oberon hooker Luke Carpenter exposing some soft marker defence to find space and then the line.
Again, Branighan missed.
CYMS scored a desperately-needed try on the stroke of half-time, Chris Bamford going straight over Oberon’s defensive line and finding Hill, who went 40 to cross.
McAlpine missed again, but the try cut Oberon’s lead to 18-8 at the break.
The Tigers drew first blood in the second half, Trent Rose nudging a beautiful grubber behind the line which Jackson Brien dived on.
Wereta took the kicking duties from Branighan, and missed.
Semisi Katoa looked to have scored down the left edge in the 53rd minute but it was disallowed for obstruction, incredibly it was the second four-pointer the hulking winger had taken away.
He crossed in the 31st minute as well, but that was disallowed too.
After the second, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it just wasn’t CYMS’ day.
A decisive moment came when Branighan bombed in the 58th minute, Satterthwaite took it in goal and earned his side a seven-tackle set.
They worked into Oberon’s red-zone, where the Tigers spilled the kick.
Lasagavibau weaved his way into space before handing Satterthwaite his second of the day. McAlpine missed – he had his own issues with the boot, kicking one from five – leaving the game in the balance at 22-12.
Lasagavibau forced a drop-out from CYMS’ next set, then Sullivan put Rob Mortimer into a gaping hole 10 metres out and he waltzed over. McAlpine nailed this one, cutting the gap to four points.
Sullivan knocked out, then threw an intercept, before Branighan forced a drop-out with 10 to go.
Desperate CYMS defence kept Tui Oloapu out, although he was adamant he’d scored, and the green and golds went the length from the resulting set.
Again, it was Lasagavibau who produced some magic. He skipped onto the outside and found Satterthwaite, who scored his hat-trick.
McAlpine hit the post, leaving the game locked at 22-22 with five to go.
CYMS were awarded a penalty in the middle of the field and worked their way into range, before Sullivan’s match-winning kick.
- ORANGE CYMS 23 (Tom Satterthwaite 3, Sam Hill, Robbie Mortimer tries; Ben McAlpine goal; Mick Sullivan field goal) def OBERON TIGERS 22 (Tui Oloapu, Tyler Hughes, Luke Branighan, Luke Carpenter, Jackson Brien tries; Branighan goal)