Royals’ grand final victory will go down in Canberra sporting folklore. A legion of fans and general spectators have paddled into the Royal blue wave, mesmerized by the power and poetry of the victory. It’s more than a classic tale of underdog triumph. The coach, the captain, and a most outstanding finals campaign all carry individual vignettes, adding weight to the victory. Yabba takes you through some of stories that made the moment in this video so special.
Wayne Southwell started as coach of the Royals’ first grade side at the beginning of the year. He spent the 2013/14 season as coach of a major Canadian team, where he would find one of his premiership-winning props in Ryan Kotlewski.
Southwell’s first task as coach was to choose a leader. He’d heard a little about Tyson Tamihere while in the coaching fold at Queanbeyan in the years before Canada.
He’d heard good things, but decided to seek advice from more experienced club members. The consensus: the young lock would make a good leader. He assigned Tamihere the captaincy at the same time he identified a leadership group. Tamihere says that group has thrived this season because “we’re all good mates.”
Southwell believes one of the reasons Tamihere is so well respected at the club is he’s prepared to admit his on-field mistakes. Yabba put this to Tamihere – he says it’s about trust. He used an example from their win over Wests in the minor semi-final to illustrate the point.
“We were on their line in attack and I was feeling the fatigue set in when I decided to pick and go. Because I was tired I dropped the ball and the boys had to chase all the way to the other end of the field to defend. We ended up scoring almost immediately. They had to cover for my mistake and I thank them for that.”
Tamihere told Yabba before the game that there was a different feeling among the group when finals came around, alluding to a sense of belief. “We hadn’t had the calibre of players all year that we had in the week leading into Wests.”
Wests won all three encounters with Royals during the regular season. They were favourites in the minor semi-final, so when Royals ran to a 19-nil lead, questions were asked more about Wests’ defence than the blue bagger’s attack.
It seemed likely Royals would take a 19-nil lead into half time, before Wests surged.
They scored on the half time siren and then again almost immediately after the break. Lions broke into a small lead before Tamihere had a chat to his men. “I just took the chance to tell them to have a breath and refocus.”
It worked. Royals found a new wind and ran in three unanswered tries in the final 20-minutes to win convincingly, 41-24.
“[Higher honours] don’t motivate me anymore. What motivates me is playing for the group of dudes I play for at Royals now.”
– Tyson Tamihere, Royals captain
Tamihere talks about sending clear messages to his team to try to unite everyone around the cause. For Southwell and Tamihere, this was two-fold: what are we trying to achieve? And how are we going to do it? “And if you can keep that [message] as simple as possible – you don’t have to remember too much – then that’s what I think it’s all about.”
“He’s a great communicator,” says Southwell when asked what makes him a good captain.
Royals weren’t meant to defeat Queanbeyan, but nor were they expected to win the Wests game. In both finals, the scoreline didn’t reflect the closeness of the contest. Royals toiled in the first half against Queanbeyan before breaking free after the 60-minute mark.
The Whites turned red with embarrassment when this happened late in the game, to seal the result. The final score: 40-27.
Coach Wayne Southwell told Yabba before the final that he was encouraging all his players to enjoy Grand Final week. This attitude was evident when the final siren sounded on Royals’ victory over Queanbeyan. They’d made it to the big one, from fourth on the John I Dent Cup ladder. The game ended and it was celebration time. They weren’t meant to win so they were going to smile with the elasticity and softness of a sponge – and soak it up. Kids joined parents on the field and everyone in blue was closing the gap between lips and eyes.
Southwell worked with his back line on their ability to throw it around and encoraged them to try things during the final. Whites Coach Adam Fahey identified this as Royals’ “point of difference” after his side’s loss.
The Grand Final itself was a match to remember. (Read the full match report here). The first half was scoreless except for a Royals penalty goal early on. Both sides sides defended outstandingly but didn’t give themselves a chance to attack because they kept dropping the ball.
Tuggeranong developed a habit during the season, of blowing their competition away with sizzling second half performances. Most games would be close in the first 40-minutes. But the Vikings would storm through almost immediately after the break and the cracks would become too easy to find. They handed this treatment to Royals in round 16.
So when Christian Lealiifano crossed in the 42nd minute, it was tempting to read from the same script. Somewhere Royals found a spark few could during the regular season. They did what would make Southwell happy – they had fun. They threw the ball around and it worked because when the time neared the end, Royals were still in the game. Vikings found themselves in a position they hadn’t faced for at least a fortnight: under pressure.
When Craig McMahon missed a field goal he could have thrown over, we appeared to be returning to the script. Vikings would win and Royals would be lauded for giving it a red hot go. You know what happens because you’ve watched the video at the top of this page. The score is 17-16 to Vikings. Royals are several phases in. The buzzer has gone and if the blue baggers drop it, they lose. If Vikings give away a penalty, McMahon won’t miss off the tee, and they lose. Then they spread it through the back line and, well, hit play on the video at the top.
What does it mean to captain Tyson Tamihere? We asked him hypothetically before the game. “Put it this way. If we win and then have another drought like the last one, I’ll be 50 when Royals next win a Premiership.”