Albury Wodonga Steamers | Sleeping giants back in the hunt for glory

Sam Allen’s return to the club mid-season coincided with a lift in the Steamers on their way to a third straight grand final. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

Sam Allen’s return to the club mid-season coincided with a lift in the Steamers on their way to a third straight grand final. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

IT was in late May, at the nadir of their title defence that the Steamers finally awoke from their slumber, according to Nathan Bright.

After a season when they were undefeated, the Steamers, who won the grand final by almost 40 points, were beaten by the wooden spooners.

Obviously, they expected to win when they travelled to the irrigation districts to tackle the last-placed and win-less Leeton.

But they found themselves down 21-0 at half-time as the Phantoms went about compiling their only win of the year.

“That was it,” Bright said.

“We spent the first half of the season in some sort of limbo land, coming from behind, playing for half a game and yet still winning.

“It all came to a head at Leeton.

“The emphasis early was to enjoy our rugby but we took that a little too far — me included.

“We put it to the players that it was a simple decision — jump on board and turn it around or just give up.

“No one wanted the latter and, in many ways, that was the start of the miracle.”

The Steamers put themselves back into contention with good wins — including a win over grand final opponent Griffith at Murrayfield two weeks later.

But Bright, who will run out as captain for the last time tomorrow, said it was just two weeks from the finals that the Blue and Golds really started to believe.

“It was the game against Ag College,” he said. “It was an arm wrestle for 60 minutes — backs to the wall for three quarters of that game.

“Then, in the last 20 minutes, we blew them off the park.

“A week later, we went to Griffith — under-manned and nursing injuries, lost players early in the match and still led with 15 minutes to go.

“Everything was against us and yet we still nearly won — in our hearts we won that game.

“It also grew our belief — suddenly we realised we could beat anyone.

“It was the same feeling ahead of Waratahs last week, the same feeling this week ahead of Griffith.”

Bright dismisses any thoughts of hangovers, the sense that having been beaten by a point in 2012 by Ag College and then redeeming themselves last year that there was no incentive for further premiership glory.

Only six premiership team players are in tomorrow’s starting XV.

“When the referee blew the whistle at the end of the grand final last year the feeling was just relief,” he said.

“It was like we had been carrying this weight on our back all year, had been undefeated and that we were expected to win.

“This year it was a conscious decision that we wanted to enjoy our rugby and a win on Saturday will be all about having played for enjoyment and that will make it a very different sort of celebration.

“And many of the boys weren’t part of last year — they know grand finals don’t come along very often and so they certainly don’t need any further incentive.”

Bright will hang up the boots with Steamer stalwarts James Kora and Dan Hogg.

“These two guys are pretty special around the club,” he said.

“Both returned to play this year when they were going to retire, to have one last crack, to help out.

“They are both great club men — do so much for the Steamers off the field as they do when they pull on a jumper.”