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History beckons in Proten Cup decider

It won’t matter how the 2022 Proten Cup decider plays out in Barellan on Sunday because history will be made one way or the other.

Doing battle in what should be an enthralling contest will be the Ivanhoe Roosters and Narrandera Lizards (pictured above, images courtesy of Andrew McLean Photography), who were pound for pound the best two teams in the competition.

Ivanhoe lost just the one regular season game and won the Proten Cup Minor Premiership, while Narrandera, who won the Proten Cup pre-season knockout, finished a gallant second, with the Lizards boasting a record of four wins and two losses.

The two sides met twice in 2022, and despite playing both games in Ivanhoe, the ledger is square.

The Roosters defeated the Lizards 22-18 in Round Four before Narrandera enacted some revenge in the major Semi-final, with the Lizards winning 24-12 to book their place in the decider.

Ivanhoe bounced back in the Preliminary Final after they belted the Hillston Bluebirds 28-10 when playing in Narrandera, to set up what should be a Proten Cup finale for the ages.

Making the final all the more interesting is the fact that both teams are out to break a Grand Final drought.

Narrandera last won a title in 2001, taking out the Group 20 reserve grade Grand Final, but their last major premiership dates back to 1999, when beating the Griffith Waratahs in the Group 20 first grade title.

Ivanhoe are going through their own drought, having never won a major Grand Final. They finished runners-up twice in the Group 17 competition - in 1959 when beaten by Hay and again in 1987 when beaten by Hillston – but they are yet to bring a major trophy home to Ivanhoe.

Roosters coach Kodie Charles explained what playing for the 2022 Proten Cup meant to him, his team, and the town of Ivanhoe.

“In first grade, we have never won a first grade Grand Final,” Charles said.

“We might have won a reserve grade Grand Final back in the 80s, but the town has never won a first grade premiership.

“It would be amazing to potentially win one. Just making the Grand Final has already lifted the community, and I am lost for words just thinking about it.”

The Proten Cup has been dominated by Rankins Springs and Goolgowi in recent years, and Charles, who has a lot of respect for Narrandera, was happy to see the Lizards and Roosters doing their communities proud.

“It’s good to see two different sides that aren’t usually up there in the Grand Final and Narrandera are a really good team, and it will be a good match,” he said.

“Nothing against the two powerhouses of the competition in Rankins Springs and Goolgowi, but it’s good to see Narrandera and Ivanhoe playing for the Grand Final and it has brought some life back into the competition.”

Despite losing their major Semi-final to Narrandera, Charles said the result helped his side, and he believes the proof is in the pudding after the Roosters belted Hillston 28-10 in the Preliminary Final.

“It will be very interesting this week,” Charles said.

“That Semi-final loss did us the world of good. Not that you ever like to lose, but we went back to the drawing board and changed a few things and that showed against Hillston.

“We will be right for the Grand Final and we still haven’t played our best footy, and hopefully we can do it on Saturday against Narrandera.”

Narrandera coach Kye Longford is equally as respectful of Ivanhoe as Charles is of Narrandera, and the Lizards skipper is predicting a terrific Proten Cup finale.

“They are a good team, and they have a lot more older and experienced blokes, and especially good players around that middle – it should be a great game,” Longford said.

“Kodie has done an awesome job to get Ivanhoe to where they are, and it will be a battle, so we will try and stop their go-forward and those big blokes and go from there.”

Longford does believe his Lizards will hold an advantage on Saturday when playing at Barellan, and he said it was now up to Ivanhoe to make the long trip to Narrandera’s home away from home.

“We have played them twice at Ivanhoe this season and it’s one-all at the moment,” Longford said.

“We had to make the long trip there both times, and any time someone has to travel, it makes it a lot harder, especially when it comes to getting players to turn up.

“Come finals, there will be no pressure on getting players, but it will be tough on Ivanhoe, because your mindset is always different on those long trips.

“For us, we are not playing at home, but Barellan is the next best place for us to play. Plus, every man and his dog are talking about it, and the more we get across there, the better the atmosphere will be.”

It’s bound to be a massive day at Barellan on Saturday, with the women’s 9s Grand Final also being played when Narrandera take on Goolgowi at 1pm.

The men’s Grand Final between Narrandera and Ivanhoe will then kick off at 2pm.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.