This Western Crusaders team will forever be remembered as The Invincibles.
No matter what challenge was thrust before the Crusaders, they rose to meet it head on in an all-conquering 2017 Gridiron Victoria division 1 season.
The undefeated Crusaders sealed their first top-tier title since 2007 and fourth overall with a commanding 30-9 win over rivals Melbourne University Royals in Vic Bowl XXXIII at MacPherson Park in Melton on Saturday.
Crusaders coach Craig Wilson lauded the level-headed nature of his team.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the season.
“They’ve put in a massive year and to stay focused for that amount of time is a pretty massive achievement.
“The guys lifted to the occasion and believed in themselves.”
The Crusaders’ flawless season was built on the back of hard work and preparation.
The coaches worked hard after games to cut film up and armed their players with the most knowledge they could provide.
“I basically got film up within 24 hours after the game, so the guys got a full week of preparation and were not waiting until the Wednesday night training session before the boys start thinking about it,” Wilson said.
“By the time we roll around to the game, the guys really know our opponents before they walk through the door on game day, so it allows people to relax and just get on with the job.”
There was no looking back for the Crusaders in the Vic Bowl once D.J. Battistella intercepted the ball with the game’s opening touchdown.
The Crusaders were after a fast start to break the Royals’ momentum following their stunning upset of Monash Warriors in the semi-final a week earlier.
Again, the Crusaders did their homework. The Royals have match-winning players, but they were kept relatively quiet.
“They have a great wide receiver, a great running back and a great tight end, but we had a game plan for each one of those players,” Wilson said.
“We knew what their quarterback wanted to do and we had him in our sights too.”
With the exception of a couple of interceptions thrown by quarterback Andrew Healy, the Crusaders hit all the right notes.
Even with those nervous throws, Healy made up for it with his damaging running game.
Defensively, the Crusaders have been stubborn this season, and were so once again in the Vic Bowl. They conceded 10 points or fewer in each of the past seven games and kept up that record in the big dance.
Jnala Saluni, the competition’s defensive player of the year, was once again at the forefront of the Crusaders defence, working well with Battistella, Ken Bennett and Harrison Delai.
The Crusaders have been powerful offensively this season too.
Crusaders running back Samuel Delai must have been close to the grand final MVP award, but was perhaps a carry or two short.
“I think the whole offensive line was fantastic,” Wilson said. “They were a really strong unit all year to be honest.”
Wing back Tyson Garnham completed a magical season with a best-afield effort in the decider. He was named the league’s MVP for 2017.
“His nickname is the Little Bull, that’s what the boys call him and it sums him up,” Wilson said.
“He gives you everything he’s got.”