On Saturday September 14 last year, the Saints marched in to their McPherson Oval clubrooms as premiers.
"Everyone was up on their feet clapping as we walked in with the cup. It was probably one of the best moments that I've been a part of, that's for sure," best-on-ground, Cayden Winter, recalls.
Twenty-five years after their last flag, and a decade after the club almost collapsed, Kirk Hamblin's Saints had delivered for those who'd kept the club alive.
"Just to see the smile on Sheeds' (Rod Sheedy) and Keato's (Peter Keating) faces, it was something else," says club junior Corey Watt.
"It really meant more to them than it probably meant to us. They'd put in such a lot of work."
The club's longest-serving player, Troy Curtis, still hasn't watched it back in full. It's all in his head.
"There's so many things going through my mind. Firstly, it was a hell of a game," Curtis says, laughing.
"It just brought the whole history of the club (together). After everything we'd been through, all your older blokes were there, the newer generation of blokes, and we all got to celebrate together.
"After the hard work of the last 10 years, we got to do it all together."
SOAK IN SUCCESS
In between outlasting East Wagga-Kooringal 13.9 (87) to 10.7 (67) at Robertson Oval and arriving at McPherson Oval, the newly-crowned premiers took a moment to savour the victory for themselves, heading back to Watt's place.
"We come back here for a bit and sat around and had a few beers. It was just us boys, the whole team sitting around the table, and we couldn't really believe it had actually happened," Watt says.
The post-game call of 'Get back to Watty's' had been a ritual for years. But this recovery was different.
"Every time you'd hear that, everyone would start whingeing because the pool was cold in winter. But this time, I tell you what, we didn't get in the pool after the grand final. It was straight to the fridge," Watt says.
It was a win for the wider club, but personal achievement too for a group that had long shouldered the Saints' hopes and dreams but taken the long road to glory.
Eight of them were there in 2014 when Nathan Dowdle took North Wagga back to finals (they lost the elimination final by four points and Dowdle to a catastrophic knee injury).
Nine were part of the promising 2015 campaign that went as far as a preliminary final (going down to EWK).
But even more were part of the failure to make finals in 2016, and 2017's disappointing straight sets exit from finals. They were the campaigns that seeded doubt.
"A hundred percent. It started to feel like we weren't getting there. Well, we were getting to finals but we just weren't making that next step," Watt says.
THE LONG ROAD
Along with Watt, the survivors of the 2014 final were Sam Longmore, Josh Thompson, Jake May, Brayden Skeers, Matt Thomas, Ben Alexander and Troy Curtis.
Curtis says after the disappointment of 2016, they couldn't help but wonder whether they had what it takes.
"Definitely. You start to question everything, and the blokes around you," Curtis says.
"We were actually getting some good players in and thinking we could contend for the flag, and then we didn't make finals. We're scratching our heads and going back to the drawing board. It was just one of those years."
In 2018 they reached the grand final but couldn't stop an all-star Marrar in its centenary year.
Key players departed then too including some in the league's top echelon (Lachie Highfield, Ned Mortimer and Dan Jordan) but the core fronted up again, more determined than ever.
In the first month, they lost two forwards for the season but rose to the minor premiership.
Still, old concerns crept in with a loss to their arch-rivals, the Hawks, in the second semi-final.
"There was massive pressure, especially when we lost the first final - massive pressure," Curtis says.
But this was a different team and those young hopefuls of 2014 and 2015 were now seasoned campaigners.
"They just had the hunger," says Cayden Winter, who has now succeeded Kirk Hamblin as coach.
"It had been a long time and they just had the hunger and drive to get it. We obviously had played in the last one (2018) and knew what it was all about and the camaraderie those boys bring to the rest of the group, it's unreal."
North Wagga did recover, dispatching Marrar in emphatic fashion in the prelim to set up an EWK rematch.
"I was probably more nervous going into the prelim than the grand final, I'm not sure why," Winter says.
"But after we won that and we were right on top in that game, I felt yeah, we probably should go on and win this. And I think a lot of the boys did as well."
Ben Alexander says falling "agonisingly short" in 2018 was tough but it stood them in good stead on grand final day.
"We felt like we were a red-hot chance. We knew we'd been there, we knew we'd done the hard yards and what it was going to take to win it. And deep down we were confident that we were tight enough as a group to get the job done," Alexander says.
"The difference was a lot of us had played finals now."
The difference on the day was the second quarter, when North Wagga seized control, and confidence.
"When Tommy Bennetts kicked it from 55 metres out and it went straight through, that was pretty good," Watt says.
"And seeing Troy Curtis really stand up like he did in the grand final. He's either on or off (with his kicking) and he was on."
Just after Bennetts had put Saints in front, their key forward marked strongly and kicked the first of his five goals.
"When I took the mark on the boundary and kicked the first goal, I thought this is our day because whenever I missed the first goal of the game we'd normally lose," Curtis says.
With that and Bennetts' inspiring goal, his heart lifted.
"It's big-game moments like that that give you that little tingle. It feels like, this is our day, things are going our way. The year before we had four or five shots (to get back into the game) and we couldn't kick a goal."
It was a lead they wouldn't relinquish for a win they'll never forget.
"It was unreal because these were blokes I'd grown up with outside of footy," Curtis says.
"To do it with them, it leaves me speechless. We put in so much hard work together, we're half a family. It's something different to do it with people like that."
Watt might not have been there, maybe shouldn't have been, due to a hamstring strain. But the 2015 league medallist wasn't going to miss their crowning moment after the heartache that came between.
Alexander couldn't have been prouder of his teammates - particularly his old mate Curtis' game up forward - while he led their defence.
Now, he's taken on an assistant coaching role alongside Winter who said his leadership has already been enormous in the pre-season, as North Wagga hope they'll get an opportunity to defend their premiership.
"Even towards the end of last year, I was getting a lot of enjoyment out of seeing other people go well and trying to bring other people up and this year I've got a real good chance to actually put that in practice. I'm really keen to see how me and Wiz develop as coaches," Alexander says.
To a man, this tight-knit group say they owe their careers to the early guidance of Dowdle and then the ability of Hamblin to take them to the next level, and overcome setbacks that might have thwarted their dream.
But the 2020 season, when it comes, will be faced without Jed Winter, Jake May and Brayden Skeers as well as Lachie Steward, Guy Ward, Jimmy Morris and Tom Bennetts.
So it's time for new leaders, and they're ready.
"There's a lot of older heads gone now, so we've had to stand up a bit. Having all the young fellas around now, it's time for us to try and do for them what Dowds and Kirk did for us," Watt says.
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