Group 10 2000s grand finals: Mudgee roar to four premierships

The Mudgee Dragons top grade side from 2000, which won the premiership against Bathurst Panthers.
The Mudgee Dragons top grade side from 2000, which won the premiership against Bathurst Panthers.

As the world entered the 21st century, it was the Mudgee Dragons who were breathing fire, winning four premierships in the decade and featuring in five consecutive deciders from 2000 to 2004.

And while Mudgee were the most successful side of the 2000s, Bathurst Panthers and Lithgow Workmen's Club provided three pulsating grand finals from 2005 to 2007, the Panthers triumphing in the latter two.

As in previous decades, teams came and went, including the previously successful Blayney Bears and Oberon Tigers (though they returned to Group 10 in the 2010s).

The Bathurst Penguins, who were formed after the Bathurst Rugby Leagues Club amalgamated with Charlestons, were rebranded the Bathurst Panthers after a deal with the Penrith Panthers Rugby Leagues Club.

2000: Mudgee Dragons 34, Bathurst Panthers 12

In five short weeks, the young Mudgee Dragons performed one of the most miraculous comebacks in Country Rugby League.

After finishing the regular season in fifth spot, they went on to win four straight play-off matches and take the 2000 premiership with a 34-12 win over Bathurst Panthers.

It was the first time since the inception of the five-team finals format that a team had come from fifth to win and the first time the Dragons had tasted success since 1986.

More than 1500 Dragons supporters made the trip to Carrington Park to watch the grand final.

It was also a coaching triumph for Tony Pascoe, who had guided the youngest ever Mudgee side to a premiership at his first attempt.

The tough three-week lead-in to the grand final had Mudgee prepared better physically than the Panthers and Pascoe and his sidekick Robert Woolley had the Dragons in the right frame of mind for what they believed would be an initial onslaught from the bigger Bathurst pack.

They expected it and they got it. Panthers began at a million miles an hour, their forwards heaping plenty of pressure on the younger and lighter Mudgee lads. But the Dragons handled the rugged early exchanges and gradually asserted their authority despite copping a few high shots and the odd stray knees.

No Mudgee supporter in their wildest dreams could have expected their team to lead 18-0 at the half-time break, courtesy of tries from Anthony Dick, Greg Ward and Mark Fitzgerald.

Panthers hit back with an early second half try, but were never in the hunt against the ruthless and relentless Mudgee defence, which never really gave the hosts a sniff.

"Pride and passion shown by the Mudgee players and supporters was a credit to themselves and the Mudgee township," Group 10 president Paul Rossiter said.

2001: Bathurst St Pat's 28, Mudgee Dragons 6

It took a lot of hard work throughout the season, but as the full-time whistle sounded it was all worth it as St Pat's won the Group 10 premiership 28-6 over the Mudgee Dragons at Carrington Park.

With the win, St Pat's celebrated their first top grade success since 1989, scoring six tries in the process to totally outplay the defending premiers.

St Pat's handled the wet conditions best, controlling possession and dominating field position thanks to a brilliant kicking game from veteran five-eighth Shaun Fathers.

Mudgee, in contrast, dropped too much ball and never seemed to settle into any sort of rhythm against a more determined and enthusiastic St Pat's side.

"It's something we've worked at for a long time and it finally came off, so I'm pretty happy about it," St Pat's coach Dave Scott said.

"I thought that if we got out there and stuck to a our game plan and we gelled all right they wouldn't come near us and I was pretty right."

St Pat's made the perfect start to the decider when skipper Jason Writer kicked ahead and dived on the loose ball for a try after only three minutes.

Any sort of lead was going to be crucial in the wet conditions and midway through the first half, St Pat's went 10 points in front when winger Christian Dowling scored after a clever kick ahead by Fathers.

St Pat's started where they left off in the second half and, after tries to Luke Bennett and Rodney Simpson, the Saints enjoyed an 18-point cushion.

The Dragons hit back with a try to elusive replacement Jade Demery, but two more tries to the hosts through Mark Elliott and Soane Finau sealed the result.

Finau was a deserved man of the match for his bullocking charges and miracle offloads, while Writer and replacement half Trent Hemsworth were at their dangerous best.

BATHURST ST PAT'S 28 (Jason Writer, Christian Dowling, Luke Bennett, Rodney Simpson, Mark Elliott, Soane Finau tries; Trent Hemsworth goal, Writer goal) defeated MUDGEE DRAGONS 6 (Jade Demery try; Tim Breeze goal)

2002: Mudgee Dragons 28, Orange CYMS 24

A 15-minute spell at the end of the match wasn't enough for Orange CYMS as the Mudgee Dragons clung on to win their second premiership in three seasons, triumphing 28-24 at Jubilee Oval.

Mudgee lost their first chance to open the scoring when Shane Weatherley missed a penalty goal, but five minutes later he got his redemption as the competition's leading point-scorer beat the defence to give the Dragons a 4-0 lead.

Trent Morgan than levelled the score when he went over out wide for CYMS.

Craig Wallace scored next to the posts and the Dragons were up 10-4, but a penalty from CYMS kicker Jeff Allman reduced the scores to 10-6.

With half-time looming, Nathan O'Brien broke through the defence after some superb lead-up play to score a try of his own next to the posts.

Weatherley's conversion pushed the Dragons to a 16-6 buffer at the break.

Minutes after play resumed, JustinShoulders made another strong break, before putting Wallace in for his second.

CYMS then started to come back after a mistake by Mudgee's Greg Ward saw the Orange side add six points in the ensuing play, before fullback David Izzard bagged a try near the posts.

With 15 minutes to play, Trent Morgan scored his second try and CYMS had taken the lead 24-22.

But the Dragons weren't going to give up that easily and with five minutes to play, Shoulders made a break and Greg Ward picked up the pass to atone for his earlier dropped ball, scoring the try.

MUDGEE DRAGONS 28 (Craig Wallace 2, Greg Ward, Shane Weatherley, Nathan O'Brien tries; Weatherley 4 goals) defeated ORANGE CYMS 24 (Trent Morgan 2, David Izzard, Jeff Allman tries; Allman 4 goals)

2003: Orange Hawks 34, Mudgee Dragons 30

Orange Hawks produced one of the greatest rescue acts in Group 10 grand final history in a thriller at Mudgee.

With three minutes remaining, grand final hosts Mudgee Dragons were leading 30-28, before Brett Theobald picked up the ball in his own in-goal.

With a stunning 90-metre try, he put the finishing touches on an incredible turnaround for the Hawks, who had finished with the wooden spoon in 2002.

The Hawks trailed 30-12 midway through the second half, but stunned Mudgee with four tries in the final 14 minutes to win their first title since 1999.

Theobald, who scored three magnificent individual tries, was a deserved man of the match.

"I just wanted to send Asa [Amone] and Keg [Mark Lowry] out winners," he said of his retiring team-mates.

"I've got lots of time and lots of respect for Asa and Keg and we put a lot into that game."

It was only fitting Theobald conjured up something for the match winner, as he had been the most dangerous attacking player on the field and his two earlier tries had come from nothing but his own individual brilliance.

With the clock ticking down, Mudgee gained good field position and forced a scrum on Hawks' 10 metre line. Theobald took the pass from the scrum on the right, drifted across field and sliced through the Mudgee defence.

Mudgee fullback Greg Ward led the chasers but he didn't make any impression as Theobald raced away for the most important try of his career.

ORANGE HAWKS 34 (Brett Theobald 3, Brett Trudgett, Grant Selwood, William Kennedy tries; Steve Lane 5 goals) defeated MUDGEE DRAGONS 30 (Craig Wallace, Kurt Gudgeon, Mark Fitzgerald, Nathan O'Brine, Justin Shoulders, Jade Demery tries; Warick Colley 3 goals)

2004: Mudgee Dragons 17, Bathurst Panthers 10

A big crowd of rugby league supporters turned out for the final hit-out of the 2004 season at Carrington Park and Mudgee Dragons and Bathurst Panthers didn't disappoint, the former defying the odds to win 17-10.

It was an ominous task, but the fighting Dragons spirit, which had seen the side win so many matches throughout the season, was enough to defeat the fancied Panthers outfit.

"The Dragons waited to see the other side's hand before making a play," coach Tony Pascoe said.

"They played their hearts out."

It was a massive day for the Mudgee region, with the Gulgong Terriers also winning the Mid West Cup competition 38-18 over Portland Colts at their home at Billy Dunn Oval.

It was Gulgong's first premiership in seven years.

2005: Lithgow Workmen's Club 19, Bathurst Panthers 4

Lithgow Workmen's Club claimed their first premiership since 1991 with a 19-4 win over Bathurst Panthers.

It was a brilliant season for Workies and coach Michael Rushworth and captain Kip Maranda were the men who guided the side throughout the season.

The two put the icing on the cake to take out the grand final.

Rushworth put the win down to his team's defence.

"My father [Barry] drummed in to me many years ago that if you are fit, it will go a long way to winning matches for you," he said.

"Our team was extremely fit and that in turn makes you mentally fit."

Workies never let the Panthers into the game and from the opening whistle they emulated their logo of the wolf, hunting as a pack with three and four players into tackles.

Their intensity was kept up throughout the game, frustrating the Panthers' runners.

In what was the worst kept secret in the week prior to the game, Rushworth selected Group 10 player of the year, Jono Van Veen, as five-eight and brought veteran Charlie Healey into fullback.

The move paid dividends, Van Veen getting his hands on the ball and having a blinder. He terrorised the Panthers' defence with his skill, hard running and excellent kicking game.

2006: Bathurst Panthers 10, Lithgow Workmen's Club 4 (after extra-time)

Whether Lithgow flyer Van Veen was onside when he ran 100 metres from an intercept in the 65th minute of the 2006 decider is a question referee Kevin Toole answered.

Bathurst Panthers won 10-4 in extra-time to claim their first top grade premiership since the club was formed in 2000.

But the talking point after the extraordinary contest, played in sunshine, rain and fading light, was whether Van Veen was onside.

Lithgow fans swore he was while the Panthers contingent were adamant the man who scored 25 tries during the 2006 season was offside.

With Panthers attacking the Workies' goal line at Lithgow's Tony Luchetti Sportsground, Van Veen rushed off his line, intercepted a Panthers pass and streeted the length of the field.

The problem was Toole called him offside, with the match tentatively poised at 4-all. And it stayed that way until full-time.

In the end, Aidan Bateup's sublime 94th minute line break from a Workies' goal-line drop-out decided the contest.

Bateup found lock Clint Giddings on his right, who scored, and Panthers sealed a 10-4 win in extra-time after centre Christian Luyks' conversion.

Lithgow coach Michael Rushworth admitted the Van Veen decision hurt his side.

The decider was brutal but bizarre.

Both sides butchered several chances to win the contest before Bateup's individual brilliance.

Panthers captain-coach Dave Elvy, who had been inconsolable after losing the two previous deciders, didn't care how Panthers won.

"It's been building ... we were very, very desperate," he said.

"I'll remember this for a long time.

"I don't care how you win a grand final. We've got plenty of critics and now the monkey is off our back."

BATHURST PANTHERS 10 (Clint Giddings try; Christian Luyks 3 goals) defeated LITHGOW WORKMEN'S CLUB 4 (Todd Mulligan try) after extra-time

2007: Bathurst Panthers 24, Lithgow Workmen's Club 4

In front of a swathe of diehard fans, Bathurst Panthers claimed back-to-back Group 10 titles with a 24-4 grand final win over Lithgow Workmen's Club at Carrington Park.

Panthers lock Clint Giddings was named man-of-the-match after a two-try effort and then announced he would have a year off from the sport.

Long-serving group president Paul Rossiter also witnessed his last decider in the post.

He had been Group 10 president from 1991 to 2007 and said a bumper crowd and super day was a great way to finish up.

"I couldn't be happier. It was a great day; the football was great," he said.

"Players make mistakes, referees make mistakes, we all make mistakes, but that's what makes grand finals so great. It's what they are all about. I'm ecstatic about my swansong and I just think it's been a great day."

Former Test forward Paul Dunn, who lived in Orange, Blackheath and Bathurst as a youngster, was a special guest at the decider.

The gate of $21,300 equated to approximately 1950 spectators.

2008: Bathurst St Pat's 19, Mudgee Dragons 12

It was the win they had to have.

After a year none of their players or fans could forget, St Pat's delivered the ultimate gift to the late club legend Dave Scott - the Group 10 premiership.

Spurred on by an address from Scott's wife Liz before the game, a blistering first half from the Bathurst team ensured the premiership would return to Jack Arrow Oval for the first time since 2001.

Tempers flared, Mudgee threw the ball around and St Pat's began to tire in a second 40 that had everything, but in the end the home side managed to find some extra fuel in the tank and held out the fast-finishing Dragons.

It did not take long for St Pat's to gain the ascendancy in the opening exchanges. Standing at first receiver, captain Trent Hemsworth laid on a perfect pass for Dane Fisher to score the opening try after just three minutes and though the skipper missed the conversion, things were up and running as the Saints proved the week off would not leave them flat.

The Group 10 player of the year then did it all himself 10 minutes later on the back of consecutive sets when he went from dummy half and burrowed over.

Nathan Corliss scored the third try for St Pat's and at the break, the blue and whites were up 16-0.

Mudgee did score two tries in the second half, both via Steve Lane, but it was St Pat's who proved too strong, winning 19-12.

BATHURST ST PAT's 19 (Nathan Corliss 2, Dane Fisher, Trent Hemsworth tries; Trent Hemsworth 2, Tim Holman field goal) defeated MUDGEE DRAGONS 12 (Steve Lane 2 tries; Matt Stott 2 goals)

2009: Mudgee Dragons 32, Lithgow Workmen's Club 29

Mudgee Dragons stole a 32-29 victory from the jaws of defeat after Corin Smith scored the match-winning try with only a few seconds left on the clock at Jubilee Oval.

The winger will be forever remembered as the bloke who scored 'that try' to hand the 2009 Group 10 title to Mudgee.

The Dragons were behind for 65 minutes of the match and at one point Lithgow held a 27-14 lead with only 15 minutes to go.

But the Dragons' fire ignited like fireworks as they scored three tries in the final 10 minutes to deny Lithgow.

Mudgee captain Warick Colley said his side showed tremendous courage.

"Incredible fightback for us ... I thought we were gone because Lithgow led the whole way, but it just shows that you can't give up and we didn't and it paid off," he said.

A shattered Lithgow captain Michael Doggett was lost for words following the game.

"I don't know what to say except congratulations to Mudgee," the Lithgow captain said.

Man of the moment Smith, who was part of the under 18s premiership-winning side the year before, said he was nervous when he got the ball from centre Kurt Beahan.

"I saw the big front-rower chasing me and I said to myself 'I have to score this' ... I'm going to remember this for a while," he said.

MUDGEE DRAGONS 32 (Warick Colley 2, Steve Lane 2, Corin Smith tries; Warick Colley 6 goals) defeated LITHGOW WORKMEN'S CLUB 29 (Scott Fittler, Brendan Van Veen, Michael Doggett, Kip Maranda, Brett Ranse tries; Jono Van Veen 4 goals, Brett Ranse field goal)

The 2000s grand final results in summary:

  • 2000: Mudgee Dragons 34, Bathurst Panthers 12
  • 2001: Bathurst St Pat's 28, Mudgee Dragons 6
  • 2002: Mudgee Dragons 28, Orange CYMS 24
  • 2003: Orange Hawks 34, Mudgee Dragons 30
  • 2004: Mudgee Dragons 17, Bathurst Panthers 10
  • 2005: Lithgow Workmen's Club 19, Bathurst Panthers 4
  • 2006: Bathurst Panthers 10, Lithgow Workmen's Club 4 (after extra-time)
  • 2007: Bathurst Panthers 24, Lithgow Workmen's Club 4
  • 2008: Bathurst St Pat's 19, Mudgee Dragons 12
  • 2009: Mudgee Dragons 32, Lithgow Workmen's Club 29