Central North Rugby: Walcha's 1997 premiership winning side to reunite for grand final.

The side Walcha’s 2017 incarnation will be hoping to emulate will reminisce their premiership success this weekend.

Champions: The victorious 1997 Walcha side - the last Rams side to win the Central North premiership.

Champions: The victorious 1997 Walcha side - the last Rams side to win the Central North premiership.

The 1997 Rams side are the club’s last to win the Heath Shield, and to tie in with Saturday’s Central North grand final are holding a 20-year reunion.

Former players are traveling from far and wide to forge old ties and cheer on the current Rams crop as they tackle undefeated defending champions Pirates.

Similarly it was a Tamworth-based team the Rams conquered in 1997 – defeating premiers Tamworth Magpies. 

Then thanks to a sharp backline and a dominant forward pack led by their two Russian front-row imports the Rams had finished minor premiers.

But a rib injury to giant lock and captain Angus Kirton coupled with the two hard men returning to Krasny Yar, saw the Rams capitulate to an in-form Magpies outfit 34-10 in the major semi-final. They then prevailed 10-5 over Moree in a dour struggle to earn a rematch with the Magpies.

Undefeated the previous season and boasting four country representatives the Tamworth side went into the decider as favourites.

The game commenced at a cracking pace, with the contest in the balance at the 25-minute mark and both sides playing expansive mistake-free running rugby.

One of the decisive moments from a Rams’ perspective came when fullback Jim Bindon fell rampaging former Gordon and Country Cockatoos centre Michael Huxley after a clean break in open space, saving a certain try.

Another turning point occurred on the Tamworth tryline just prior to half time. Walcha’s country rep and scrum-half Hamish McLaren charged down a clearing kick with his face, regained his composure and scored near the posts to put the Rams ahead at the break.

From then on, Walcha managed to hold parity in the scrum and out-enthuse their more fancied opponents across the park. 

The victory was sealed with a try on full-time to plucky winger Steve Hoy.

Former President John Walker remembers the sea of red and boisterous Walcha supporters filling the opposing side of the field.

“It was almost a home game for us - the crowd was unbelievable,” he said.

“We were rank underdogs with injuries and team selections.”

Two of the successful side will have a direct involvement on Saturday, with Barry Hoy and Hyde Thomson co-coaching the Rams.

Hoy was also at the helm back in 2012 – the last time the Rams featured in the decider - alongside current president Andrew Crawford.

He recalled an alignment of tough footballers and a tight social bond.

“The players got along well, took footy seriously and enjoyed each other’s company – and still do,” he said.

“Training sessions often got unruly afterwards at the local hotel, sometimes even on Tuesday nights. 

“At the time, many of the players carried scars from narrow grand final losses in 1994 and 1995, and had become determined not to let each other down on grand final day”. 

Co-coaches John Leah and Jock Laurie highlighted the club’s depth, with Leah also remarking on the team’s fitness.

“Training was competitive. KC (trainer) had the boys doing hill sprints carrying bricks and doing beep tests in fitness sessions which was unheard of,” he said.

“The players were in their prime. Reserve grade was unlucky to lose in the final the previous week and juniors were also strong. This meant we had fit, fresh talent coming off the bench”. 

Playing in five grand finals for the Rams in the 90s, including the 1997 success, Crawford knows how special this weekend will be. 

“We’ve got a spirited club and proud rugby community. It’s a big assignment for our boys to knock off an undefeated Pirates team - but stranger things have happened,” he said.