Albury Thunder has fallen agonisingly short of finals.
The Thunder just needed to beat an injury-riddled Wagga Kangaroos to grab fifth place, but the home team rallied from 10 points down to post a stunning 32-24 win.
“At 16-six, we were looking really good and working to our game plan, but it’s been us all year, we scored points and from the kick-off, we turned it over,” coach Josh Cale said.
And, in the ultimate irony, last year’s Thunder coach Ben Jeffery played a leading role as the Roos’ mentor.
“He was just too good, but we had our chances,” Cale said.
Jeffery was delighted to grab victory over the club where he spent five superb seasons.
“When it was 16-six, it could have gone either way,” he said.
“It took a huge effort.
“It just shows the type of playing group we’ve got.”
Jeffery and lightning-fast Roos’ fullback Tristan Dickson combined for a match-winning try in the 73rd minute.
Dickson produced an audacious chip and chase, before passing to Jeffery for a 30-18 lead.
It rounded out a disrupted season for the visitors, who sacked their coach Tuki Jackson in early June.
Three-time premiership coach Cale took over in the club’s hour of need.
“It’s been a tough season for sure,” he said.
“I spoke to the players after the game and when you have years like this, you’ve got to use them as motivation for next year and not want to go through it again.
I spoke to the players after the game and when you have years like this, you’ve got to use them as motivation for next year and not want to go through it again.Josh Cale
“We’re not the only club that goes through these things.”
The club suffered a major blow pre-season when boom recruit Jarrod Brackenhofer quit due to personals reasons and returned to Sydney.
And to make matters worse, game-breaker Shannon Rupapere fractured his scapula in mid-May.
The club never recovered.
It left the Thunder without a play-maker and it’s near impossible to compete at this level without a boom player in the halves.
The Thunder won only one of eight games at one stage and just when it looked capable of grabbing an unlikely finals berth, it suffered seven injuries in the final fortnight.
But that doesn’t change the fact the Thunder has now missed two of the past three finals campaigns and bombed out in the first week last year.
However, there’s excitement with the arrival of Adrian Purtell as coach.
“He’s our only player to leave Albury and play NRL, so he’ll have that respect,” Cale said.