When you see your dreams shattered in a grand final, the only way to make amends is to front up the following season and win the next one.
Werribee Bears did just that on Saturday, atoning for last year’s grand final defeat with the 2016 NRL Victoria first-grade premiership.
Even sweeter for the Bears was the chance for payback over the Casey Warriors, who defeated them on the big stage last season.
The Bears won a grind-it-out clash of the heavyweights 14-10 at Casey Fields to claim their first top-flight premiership.
For Bears player-coach Phil Pese, the joy of the victory and the title was enormous.
“Being the champions of Victoria, I can’t explain how much it means to me, the guys and the club,” he said. “I don’t have enough words to express how happy I am.”
Werribee is the dominant force in Victorian rugby league.
The Bears took out the 9s title a week ago, but the first-grade premiership is the one with the greatest currency.
Last year’s setback was hard to swallow at the time for the Bears, but it was invaluable experience to have leading into this year’s finals.
“The loss last year gave me a lesson, also the core group a lesson,” Pese said.
“This time last year, everyone was nervous because we’d never made it to that position before. Heading into this year’s final, we were more keen and eager to get the job done.
“I’m glad that we came away with a win for the club to move forward.”
Werribee’s ability to lock down on the defensive end was the key factor.
Twice in this finals series, the Bears held the Warriors to 10 points, with Pese’s incessant preaching of the virtues of defence to his players fully justified.
“From day dot, I’ve said defence will always win premierships,” he said.
“The most important thing is putting a structure in place in defence and an attitude to help one another.
“My biggest challenge was enforcing defensive plays and getting attitudes in the right place where we needed to defend. We defended well and got the win.”
A clear stand-out on the attacking end for Werribee was centre Radeem Saleupolu.
He scored two tries and showed why he is the premier centre in first grade.
“His step, his fend and his explosive speed are second to none,” Pese said.
The coach was reluctant to praise any individuals aside from grand final MVP Saleupolu.
This was a win for the collective – players, officials, support staff or the loud Bears fans who made the trip to Casey Fields.
“They all put their energy and effort into making sure we came back to the west with that cup,” Pese said.