James Smart finally knows what it is like to win a premiership.
After four failed attempts, the Tigers captain-coach was able to lift the premiership cup high at Equex Centre on Saturday.
Announcing plans to hand over the leadership role during the second of two three-year stints, Smart helped the Tigers to a 13-6 win over Southcity.
They hadn’t beat the Bulls all season, but after overcoming a horror start, did so in the game that matters the most.
Smart pumped both fists in the air then slumped to the ground overcome by the emotions of a premiership win so longed for and so deserved at full-time.
He could hardly believe it.
“You think about this day for a long, long time and you feel a bit numb at the moment,” Smart said.
“It’s all a bit of a blur.”
Things couldn’t have got off to a worse start for the side who had gone down to Southcity in the last two grand finals.
The first kick in general play from Tyron Gorman went out on the full and then Smart then spilled a grubber kick and Southcity pounced.
Kyle McCarthy put Luke McBeath over after four minutes to go out to a 6-0 lead.
However it was to be the only time the Tigers defence would crack.
Gundagai lost prop Matt Henery to a foot complaint after 21 minutes but were able to work their way back into the contest.
They were hammering the Bulls line with repeat set after repeat before finally scoring when the retiring Damian Willis managed to flick a Blake Dunn kick back for Dylan Cole to score and level things with 11 minutes left in the half.
Smart thought it was a massive moment in the game.
“We needed to come away with a try at that point,” he said. “They are turning points in games of footy and if they had of turned us away it probably would have galvanised them so it was a huge turning point in the game.”
Smart then put the Tigers in front as he slotted a field goal with six seconds left in the half to see his side lead 7-6 at the break.
The lead gave the side confidence and six minutes later they went further in front when James Luff slammed the ball down under the posts.
Southcity tried to respond and looked like they were going to when noted try sneak Pani Manawatu was dangerously close to the line.
However he was ruled to have lost the ball over the line and it was the Bulls last real shot at getting back into the contest.
Eating up metres, even after losing Luke Berkrey to an ankle issue, the Tigers were able to come away with the win just their second in 13 attempts following their 1983 premiership success.
Smart is unsure what lies ahead with his football but regardless this moment will be a special one.
“As much as you try to say it doesn’t affect you it does, you feel like it is never going to happen,” he said.
“It hasn’t really sunk in just yet, but it is just nice to finish in this way.
“To see the boys with their families and their kids is what you work hard for all season.”