2003-winning Wallaroos side reunites on Saturday
EVERY grand final win has a great story behind it.
The Wallaroos side that captured the 2003 Bundaberg Rugby League premiership is no different and tomorrow's final home game of the season against Eastern Suburbs will double as a 10th-year reunion.
At the time it was hailed as a rags-to-riches tale.
The Wallaroos, or "Maryborough Invaders" as they were referred to by Bundaberg's NewsMail, claimed the title with a 28-20 grand final win over Easts in their BRL debut season.
The man in charge of the team that survived three sudden-death matches to make it to the decider was David Sheppard, who remarkably won a premiership in his first and only year as an A-grade coach.
"It was a special moment and something I've always been proud of," Sheppard, who moved to England for three years shortly after the triumph, said.
"I played for the Roos my whole life and to coach them and win at that high level and that calibre of football was amazing."
The team was skippered by a young Brad Jung, who now plays for Brothers. However, the most notable name in the team was five-eighth Maurice 'Bobby' Blair, who went on to make his NRL debut with Penrith four years later and is now a regular starter in Craig Bellamy's Melbourne Storm side.
In 2002, the Wallaroos played in the Chairman's Challenge, which took in three Maryborough sides (Wallaroos, Rovers and Brothers) and four South Burnett sides (Nanango, Cherbourg, Kingaroy and Blackbutt).
A few weeks after losing to Nanango in the grand final, the Wallaroos were asked by BRL president Mal Breen if they wanted to join the stronger BRL competition in 2003.
While most expected the Wallaroos to struggle against the might of the Bundaberg sides, Sheppard, who was 28 at the time, fondly recalled sensing something special was in the making that year.
"There was a bit of that us against them seeing we were in the Bundy comp and the only Maryborough side," he said.
"Our team had a lot of mongrel and even though it wasn't as skilful as the other teams, we competed in every game and never gave up.
"We went from strength to strength and peaked at the right time, but a lot of the year was built on mateship.
"We got along well off the field and because we were happy off the field it meant the players were committed to having a dig on the field."
Nearly every person who was involved in the Wallaroos' 2003 premiership will be attending tomorrow's reunion at Maryborough Sports Club, where memories of that historic grand final win will no doubt fill the room.
Afterwards they will attend Eskdale Park to support the present-day players as they take on Easts in the club's final home game of the season.
While wins have been hard to come by this season, Sheppard hoped something would rub off on today's Wallaroos side.
1. Mitchell Meyers
2. Stuart Minniecon
3. Malcolm Brown
4. Shane Jeffrey
5. Peter Colls
6. Maurice (Bobby) Blair
7. Edward Law
8. Paul Hanley
9. Clayton Paulsen
10. Bradley Jung (C)
11. Larry Smith
12. Mitchell Price
13. Leo Brown
14. Gary Beard
15. Manny Blair
16. Craig Dodd
17. Raymond Fraser
David Sheppard (coach), Ken Harvey (manager), Mark Wroe (trainer), Derek Johnston and Drew Stewart (first aid officers), Steve Russell (League Safe).
Players that also played during that season were: Peter Klupfel, Ty Campbell, Herbie Tanner, Peter Nogar, Shaun Price, Lewis Blair, Richard Sandow, Aaron Harvey.