They sang Logan Rei’s name loudly and proudly in the stands during the presentation of the McMasters Shield.
The New Plymouth Old Boys fullback had become an instant hero for the club’s fans while earning the admiration of his team-mates after he knocked over a sideline conversion in the last play of the premier club rugby final to beat Inglewood 17-15 at Yarrow Stadium.
The win, the first for the club since 2008, seemed unlikely for the majority of the match as Old Boys were forced into numerous mistakes by desperate and determined Inglewood defence.
It also denied Inglewood back-to-back titles.
“I’m just over the moon with this group of players and the management team,” Old Boys co-coach Michael Carr said.
“The day is a special day, to play in a final and to win it is wonderful.”
Rei’s conversion of Jackson Carrington’s 80th minute try masked the fact that it was not a good Old Boys performance.
While they started the match well, controlling possession and hammering away at the Inglewood line which led to a Lachlan Boshier try, they struggled to adapt to the line speed Inglewood brought, especially close to the ruck where Old Boys repeatedly stationed a forward as first receiver.
Players who had been reliable all season as Old Boys dominated the round robin started to make handling errors, they lacked penetration in much of their attack while their discipline was found wanting, especially when they came under pressure.
Somehow they stuck at it and, as the clock ticked away in the second half, put Inglewood under some sustained pressure.
However, while they created chances, poor handling and equally average passing and ball security let them down.
A crucial point came with less than five minutes remaining when Telly Hemopo was yellow carded for deliberately slowing the ball down as Old Boys searched for a try.
That allowed enough space out wide for Carrington to find an opening before Rei’s heroics sealed the deal.
“You need a bit of luck to win a final and we started to play a lot better the last 25 [minutes] as we started to play in the right areas,” Carr added.
“Inglewood were outstanding in the middle of the field and we just didn’t get our carries right. That’s what happens when you are a champion team and have been to grand finals before because they certainly knew how to play and they had an outstanding game.”
As for Rei, Carr was adamant he would never forget that moment.
“There is a lot of pressure kicking in a final because it’s do-or-die but I’m absolutely chuffed for the kid.”
Before he said anything about his team, Old Boys captain Liam McBride, who was a central figure in getting Old Boys going late in the match, paid tribute to the performance of Inglewood.
“To be honest, Inglewood probably deserved to win because they played really, really well. They took their opportunities and we lacked a lot of discipline, but it’s an 80 minute game and you have to play to the final whistle.”
McBride admitted it felt for a long part of the final that it simply was not going to be their day.
“It absolutely did. We kept dropping pill, we were ill-disciplined and we probably didn’t deserve it but we’ll take it because it’s the first time we’ve won a championship in a while.”
Inglewood co-coach Ngatai Walker, like the squad as a whole, were gracious in defeat, even though it was clear the nature of how they lost had stunned them.
“They got the win, we’d rather have it but that’s how it goes,” he said. “Liam McBride led them really well in the last bit of the match and got the team up.
“But we played a hell of a game. We were dominant for long periods but we also know what it’s like to win or lose on fulltime.”
Ngatai also reflected on the last two years and how well Inglewood had played at times under his and co-coach Germaine Anaha’s watch.
“We will just regroup and come back again. We played well and the performance today was really pleasing.”
Inglewood fullback Avon Lewis was deservedly judged man-of-the match.
He was a constant threat on attack, timed some of his runs superbly and was equally strong on defence.
NEW PLYMOUTH OLD BOYS 17 (Lachlan Boshier, Jackson Carrington tries; Logan Rei 2 cons, pen) INGLEWOOD 15 (Cody Hall 5 pens). HT: 10-12.