THE two Cinderella stories of the Ovens and King league will face off for the premiership this weekend.
Glenrowan went from not winning a game in 2012 to playing off in a grand final the following year. It is now the three-time reigning premier, playing for a record fourth consecutive premiership on Saturday.
Hoping to follow in its footsteps is Benalla All Blacks, which did not win a game in 2015. The club appointed Harry Moran to take over the playing coach role at 21 years of age, and he has overseen the Panthers’ resurgence.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling around the club,” Moran said.
“It has been a pretty dark seven or eight years. To be rejuvenated and in the position we are in, playing in a grand final after not winning a game two years ago, is fantastic.”
He says that about 75 to 80 per cent of players on the senior list were new to the club from two years ago.
Moran holds no grudges against the players who had left for greener pastures when the club was struggling, and says all the recruits were “Benalla born-and-bred”.
“These are all genuine Benalla boys and have all had a genuine affiliation with Benalla through family,” he said.
“For the long-term prospects of our club, we recruited players we think will be loyal to the club, and we think will be there for quite a long time.
“I think we’ve got the right people at the club now to make a sustainable future.”
Glenrowan president Jason McPhail says appointing young coaches was the key for the clubs — Nigel Robinson was only 25 when he was appointed Glenrowan coach for the 2013 season.
“He knew a lot of people (to potentially recruit), and I think if we didn’t get the right coach at that particular time, it would’ve been a lot harder,” McPhail said.
For Robinson, now co-coach with brother Matt, it was also a matter of ensuring long-term success.
“The first year when we lost (the 2013 grand final) we didn't know where we would go from there,” he said.
Robinson said he has always recruited players who had an association with the club. “We had blokes we knew were going to stick around, who we were friends with.”
McPhail says there is only one player in the current group who has not played at least one of the past three premierships.
Glenrowan’s coach is happy to wear the tag of underdog.
“If we’ve got any advantage, it’s experience,” Robinson said.
Benalla All Blacks have less experience in grand finals, but are not completely bereft — Chris Lockhart won flags at Jerilderie, and Al Jacka won one with Benalla Saints.