Take a trip back in time and go back to May 11.

Altona Roosters were 0-5, bottom of the NRL Victoria first grade ladder and in all sorts of trouble.

Instead of writing the year off, the Roosters made some positional changes that took immediate effect and put the defensive side of their game into sharp focus because they were leaking far too many points.

Their plight at the time seems a world away now that the Roosters have just won their first final, a runaway 40-24 semi-final win over North West Wolves at Bruce Comben Reserve on Saturday.

The importance of that rough period in the season is not lost on playing coach Jackson Brenchley, as they have since won 11 of their next 12 games.

The biggest change stemming from those early rounds was the addition of defensive coach Waka Wanahi.

Wanahi’s profound impact could be found late in the win over the Wolves.

Leading narrowly 28-24 and with their season hanging in the balance, Altona found a way to win a game they might have lost in the first five rounds with three tries in the last 20 minutes.

Brenchley believes that part of the reason why Altona held on for a memorable win was because of the teachings from Wanahi.

“He’s just taught us a bit about resilience,” Brenchley said.

“He’s played Queensland Cup [for Burleigh Bears] for about 10 years and he’s brought us a lot of defensive structures, resilience and a lot of mindset training.

“We did that earlier in the year and it’s sort of paying off now.

“The last two weeks, the game has been in the balance late in the game and we’ve just run away with it.

“That’s got a lot to do with it the mindset training and what we do in those situations.”

The impact of two players at either end of their careers was crucial for Altona on Saturday.

Rookie sensation Pita-Will Purcell and warhorse Joseph Smith had significant roles in the Roosters week one finals win.

Purcell has been a revelation at five-eighth.

He is a teenager who has taken to Victorian top-flight rugby league like a duck to water.

“I’ve never seen a kid like that come in and just dominate first grade like it’s nothing to him,” Brenchley said.

“The under-18 season finished and we’ve thrown him into first grade and he’s literally been the best player on the field for every game he’s played for first grade this year.

“He’s controlling the game for us.

“He’s doing all the things you’d expect a seasoned half-back to do.

“He’s barking orders, telling all the old blokes where to go and doing the right things.”

Altona Roosters

Altona Roosters’ Henry Sang-Yum. Photo by Damjan Janevski.

Smith, the team captain, might be in his twilight years, but he has not lost any of his bite.

The forward continued to chew up metres for Altona and does so with a minimum of fuss.

“He’s just a workhorse,” Brenchley said.

“I reckon he’s the toughest bloke I know.

“He just gets bashed every game and does all the tough stuff, but he always plays a full game every week.”

Altona Roosters will face Werribee Bears in an all-west preliminary final at Sunbury on Saturday with the winner to face Truganina Rabbitohs in the grand final.