Wyong's Long Road
In three seasons in the New South Wales Cup the Wyong Roos have gone from wooden spooners to grand finalists, though it's been double that time since their club has featured in any decider across any competition, and Roos captain Mitch Williams has been there almost every step of the way.
Bar a lone season playing for this week's opponents Newcastle Knights in 2012, Williams is a Roo through and through and has been amazed by the club's progression through the ranks – which was further buoyed by the club's partnership with NRL minor premiers the Roosters this year.
Sunday's VB NSW Cup Grand Final will be a Wyong's first decider since their 36-4 victory over Cessnock in the Newcastle Rugby League competition in 2009, featuring a then 21-year-old Williams.
"You never know when you're going to get the next opportunity to play in a grand final so you really need to take it with both hands," Williams told NRL.com.
"There's no way anyone could've imagined Wyong would've made a grand final in NSW Cup, but we're here now so we may as well make the most of it.
"In three years the club has come a long way from finishing last to now being in the grand final. Obviously the choice to make the jump up was a big decision in 2013, especially without a feeder club.
"I think we surprised plenty by winning a few games, then we made the finals last year and we were starting to build something real nice. Then the partnership with the Roosters has taken us to a new level again."
While Wyong will enter the grand final as favourites Williams said Newcastle deserved their spot in the decider after eliminating Manly, last year's premiers Penrith and this year's minor premiers Mounties on their way to the grand final.
"It did seem like they had lost a bit of momentum coming towards the finals but they obviously rediscovered that. They had two big wins and then knocked out the Mounties in pretty clinical fashion which says a lot about the team and how they're going," Williams said.
"If you look across their team they have experience and some real young kids who have had big seasons, so they didn't make this game for no reason. We know how tough a challenge it's going to be. We know if we're at our best then we can win the game but we also know they're going to do everything to stop that so we'll have to be at our best."
A potential grand final win and a place on the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final card as NSW's representative in the in the National Championship against the winner of Queensland's Intrust Super Cup would cap off an amazing year for Williams.
After a punishing pre-season with the Roosters and playing at the Auckland Nines with the eventual NRL minor premiers, the 27-year-old said he appreciated his time under Tricolours coach Trent Robinson.
"Trent Robinson is very articulate. I haven't come across many blokes who have studied the game more than him. Learning from him, and the experience to train and play around guys like Pearce and Friend and Maloney was great," Williams said.
"Just to watch how they train and see how hard they work every day to improve their game is something that I've tried to take on board and take it back to Wyong to make sure we're improving every training session."
The NSWRL Grand Final day, held at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday, September 27, is the biggest day on the VB NSW Cup, Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield calendars and the only live rugby league in Sydney that weekend – and adult tickets are just $10, with kids under 12 free! With face painting, live music and a carnival-like atmosphere, it’s the perfect day out for young and old. Get your tickets here.