Country rugby was the winner – but Valley was the champion.
At the end of a special day, as an estimated 2200 fans roared in delight or despair at Whitestone Contracting Stadium, it almost seemed unfair that one group of rural warriors had to be on the losing side.
But this was reasonably clear-cut, Valley producing one of its best performances of the season to win its fifth Citizens Shield and dash the hopes of a gallant Kurow team.
The common wisdom was that Kurow had destiny on its side, as a club that has done a superb rebuilding job – and harnessed some phenomenal community support – chased its first title in 36 years.
That, however, overlooks the fact Valley, which qualified in fourth place for the playoffs, had its own fairy tale to write.
Valley had some growing pains a few years back as a golden generation of players retired, and the club turned to one of its favourite sons to bring the good times back.
Mike Mavor, with coaching lieutenant Shane Carter by his side and an intriguing mix of raw and experienced players on the field, said it was “amazing” to win the Citizens Shield as a coach.
He played in all four of Valley’s previous shield triumphs, so he knows what it means to the Weston-based club to be back at the top.
“You do kind of forget how special it is to win a final,” Mavor said.
“It went right down to the wire, and there was just a huge amount of relief when it was all over.
“It’s about the boys, and I’m just so happy for them. They’ve worked hard for each other and they deserve this.”
Mavor paid tribute to Kurow, referencing Valley’s own disappointment at losing the 2017 final.
“I feel for Kurow. We’ve been there before.
“Kurow defended well, and they took a bit of cracking, but we played to our plan and retained the ball.”
They say Valley is a champion team, not necessarily a team of champions, but that rather downplays the efforts of some talented players.
Giant prop Meli Kolinisau showed his appetite for action with a fine display, while popular lock Cedric Laurent was tough and combative in his final game before saying “au revoir”.
Loose forwards Sam Sturgess, Jake Greenslade and Cameron Rowland worked themselves to the bone, and midfielders Dylan Edwards and Matthew Vocea got themselves into the game whenever they could.
Crucially, Valley star Dan Lewis delivered a masterclass at the end of an injury-affected club season. Lewis found holes to run through, and also provided shots of confidence with two spectacular conversions from the sideline.
Valley, overall, seemed to have a shade more hunger, and did a fine job of shutting down Kurow’s dangerous ball-runners.
Kurow scored right at the start and right at the end of the first half, and led 15-14 shortly into the second spell.
Valley’s response was impressive, two converted tries taking it out to 28-15.
The try of the game was a stunning 50m effort from Kurow first five Tyler Burgess, setting the stage for a grandstand finish.
Kurow swept downfield in the final minutes but could not find a lucky break.
Burgess and Ben Nowell stepped up in the second half, and No8 Ryan Ambler was a whirlwind of activity.
Leggy winger Dean Fenwick always looked dangerous, and player of the season Petelo Pouhila finished strongly.
Kurow coach Nick Anderson, in his first year at the club after helping Maheno win the Citizens Shield in 2016, lamented a flat start from his team.
“We didn’t execute well in the first half, but we came back into it once we got going,” Anderson said.
“Valley did a good job of holding on to the ball but our defence was outstanding, and we knocked them back a bit.
“It’s all about moments in a final. Valley took their moments, and we couldn’t quite make the most of ours.”
Anderson is looking forward to another crack next year at breaking Kurow’s long shield drought.
Citizens Shield final
Valley 28 (Meli Kolinisau, Mark Roney, Sam Sturgess, Brad Fleming tries; Dan Lewis 4 con), Kurow 22 (Jesse Porter, Ben Nowell, Tyler Burgess tries; Burgess 2 con, pen). Halftime: Valley 14-12.