Season 2015 New Era Cup

Wallerawang Warriors were the first team into the midwest’s New Era Cup grand final following their 18-4 major semi-final win over minor premiers Blackheath Blackcats, but Blackheath, then relegated to the elimination final against Bathurst’s Villages United, survived the challenge from the third-placed club to take their place in the decider two weeks later.

Blackheath and Wallerawang had swapped and shared the competition lead all season, and even before the semi-finals began the chances were fairly good that a team would win the midwest premiership comprising a rare grand final relationship between teammates.

Footballing father and son duos are not common occurrences, and even rarer are those that share ultimate premiership success together with the same team.

These two clubs led into this year’s New Era Midwest Cup finals series and were fielding father-and-son combinations, and the possibility was strong that one or the other of the clubs would hold aloft the Blayney Football Union Cup, the symbol of midwest football supremacy for more than a hundred years.

In a competition embracing clubs from Orange and Kandos to Lithgow and the Blue Mountains, 2015 champions Blackheath Blackcats are one of the few clubs in contemporary rugby league privileged to honour one of these father/son combinations and, with this year’s 20-6 grand final win – Blackheath’s ninth overall first grade success and 19th grand final since the 1970s – champion Brett Ranse bowed out of rugby league on his own terms, at 41 years of age, with an amazing ninth trophy – with son Matthew by his side.

Matthew, at 20 and with a style of play not unlike his father, secured his first senior title, with his football career stretching in front of him.

In every one of the 13 senior grand finals Brett has contested he played significant roles and was pivotal in the success of the nine successful premiership sides he helped guide around the paddock from the five-eighth position, and not in the least the 2015 decider.

In the history of rugby league there is probably no-one who has achieved what Brett Ranse has – nine premiership titles from 13 grand finals – and winning his last grand final playing alongside his son in his final game of football.

The irony of Ranse’s ninth grand final success is that he achieved it at the same club with which he won his first title 23 years earlier as an 18-year-old before travelling half way around the continent for trial games with Western Reds and Adelaide Rams and stints with half-a-dozen other club sides as well as various representative teams.

After this unique scenario Brett will now have the satisfaction of basking in the reflection of his deeds of an eventful career carving out his special niche in rugby league history.

Blackheath’s playing coach Jed Jervis would also have represented in the grand final as he did last year – with his boys Brad, Ryan and Matt – except for a snapped achilles tendon sustained in an earlier game this season.

Although not teammates, another Blackheath family connection is long-serving club trainer and former grand-final winning Blackcats halfback from the 1980s Greg Nankervis and son Greg from the current team.

Greg, 21, finally scored a top-grade win of his own after six straight grand final losses with the junior sides and last year’s loss in the top grade to Charles Sturt University at Bathurst.

Expectations were higher this year for the youthful Blackheath team after their grand final appearance last season, and they lived up to expectations in taking out the first New Era sponsored competition.

Not to be overlooked in this year’s title decider was Brad Cornwell and his son Hayden, both on the playing roster of runner-up Wallerawang Warriors.

Cornwell, 42, was an integral part of the last Wallerawang premiership-winning team in 2001, the second of back-to-back titles, but to be a part of a grand final team with your son is testament to an individual’s fitness, strength and longevity – traits that Brad Cornwell still displays 25 years after his first senior game with the Warriors – but despite playing as player-coach all season Brad generously gave up his grand final spot to his 20-year-old son.

The Wallerawang Warriettes leaguetag team, beaten 22-16 by Bathurst’s Charles Sturt University in their season decider, contained the rest of the Cornwell family, Brad’s wife Jo and daughter Brooke.