MASTERSTROKE: The signatures of champion halves combination Ant Cowan and Mal Webster has helped fast-track the South Grafton Rebels to success.PHOTO: ADAM HOURIGAN
MASTERSTROKE: The signatures of champion halves combination Ant Cowan and Mal Webster has helped fast-track the South Grafton Rebels to success.PHOTO: ADAM HOURIGAN

Rebels want to put the final piece in place

IT WAS meant to be a jigsaw puzzle that would take five years to complete, but it's only taken three.

Rugby league was in tatters in South Grafton when president Ray Taunton and vice-president Johnny Matthews picked up the pieces and resurrected the Rebels insignia in 2013.

"Ray sat down with me and said 'why don't we have a crack at keeping the senior club together and give our juniors something to aim for'," Matthews said.

"The 100-year thing in 2014 was a big motivation for Ray and myself."

They knew tough times lay ahead, but together they had a vision.

"The end goal was to get a home grand final," Taunton revealed.

"It was a five-year plan and we've done it in three.

"It's just great to finally get there and be part of it."

In their first season at the helm Rebels won just two matches in the NRRRL and there was little to suggest change in the wind.

"After that first year it could've been very easy to pull the pin on the whole thing," Matthews said.

"It's been an eye opener because I've never had anything to do with running a football club before."

Even with the introduction of coach Dallas Waters and a move to Group 2, the Rebels won just four matches in 2014.

This year it seems everything has aligned. The playing roster is full of talent across the park and throughout the season fans have witnessed some of the most dazzling displays ever seen at McKittrick Park.

All that's left is 80 more minutes of football.

Players who were part of the scene in 2013 like Josh Harris have seen massive changes since that time.

Harris sat out 2014 with a knee injury and only made his return to the top grade from a midseason recurrence of the injury in the major semi-final win against Comets.

"The knee feels good," Harris said.

"Dal's introduced a good culture with the boys and the biggest thing is the supporters and community have gotten behind us.

"At the end of the day that's what drives the players."

Part of the puzzle is the 2014 Group 3 premiership winning trio of halves Mal Webster and Ant Cowan and prop Steven Walker, who Waters enticed to South Grafton after Macleay Valley Mustangs was booted out of Group 3 this season.

Cowan and Webster have a deep understanding of each other's games. But the fact both have been happy in their new surrounds has been just as crucial to the success.

"It's just been fun," Cowan said.

"The main thing I'm enjoying is the culture in the club. It's not just about individual people, it's about everyone putting in hard work.

"It makes me and Mal's job a lot easier."

Webster echoed Cowan's sentiments

"When I first come up here I didn't know most of the boys," he said.

"Now I can pretty much count them all as brothers."

Walker, meanwhile, was excited at the opportunity to play in the Clarence Valley for the first time in the twilight of his career. He has family from Baryulgil and is the son of former Grafton Ghost Darryl Walker.

"Hopefully I'm hanging the boots up after this," the 34-year-old said.

"It's good to be playing in Grafton with dad's side of the family. Dallas is my cousin and I've played under him before in knockouts and at Kempsey."

Now all that's left is to pray for South Grafton to get over the line, and you can leave that up to two of the side's spiritual leaders in Ian Leota and Hughie Stanley.

Rockhampton born and bred Stanley and Leota, New Zealand born and of Samoan heritage, are two of the furthest travelled South Grafton recruits. But there is no denying their part in enlightening South Grafton on and off the field.

"One of the things I wanted to achieve here was not just a premiership but being able to bring good people together and do it for the whole community," Stanley said.

Leota has an extensive rugby union background but has been in rugby league circles for the past few seasons, including being selected for the North Coast representative side in 2014. This is his first league grand final.

"I've just played grand finals in union," he said.

"It's a big one for me. I'm nervous but keen."

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