IN their first home game since losing their inspirational number 9, Crushers under-13s scored a last-gasp try to seal a 24-20 win over Brothers – a victory that was dedicated to the late Will Murdoch.
The Herbert River side bounced back from a first-half mauling to turn the game on its head and snatch an emotional win, secured by a late try from Jack Butcher.
At the final whistle the players united in the middle of the field before raising Will’s jersey and carrying it off the pitch – a tribute that will never be forgotten.
His family and friends were among a fired-up crowd that cheered the team off as they walked Will’s number 9 shirt to the dressing room, and later presented it to his father Andy.
Will’s grandfather Peter Sheahan said: ‘I reckon young Will was with them right at the end. It made the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
‘They presented Andy with Will’s number 9 jersey. Everyone has been saying the same thing – Will was there with them.’
Coach Tony Iafano called it ‘the proudest moment of my football career’.
He said: ‘My favourite moment in my footballing career wouldn’t be playing – it would be coaching the boys to this win.
‘The war cry in the dressing room afterwards was sung with so much passion. There were a lot of tears.
‘It was a big day for the boys, being so young. At the end of the game we retired the number 9 jersey. That is Will’s jersey.
‘The boys came together in the middle of the park. I went out and gave them Will’s jersey. They got together in two lines and they walked it off.
‘It showed how much it meant to them to win the game – and how much Will meant to them.’
Crushers had been stunned early on, as Brothers scored straight from Herbert River’s kick-off – and were two tries up within ten minutes.
Brothers’ number 7 Bradley Pilchowski scored three first-half tries, converting one.
TJ Duncan scored twice for the home side – and Iafano said Crushers were lucky to go in 16-10 down at the break.
He said: ‘We were pretty quiet in the first-half. There wasn’t a lot of talking. The day might have got to the boys a little bit.
‘In our team-talk we spoke about playing football. Nothing fancy. Just to give 100%. That’s all you can ask for. I tell the boys if they give 100% the score doesn’t matter.
‘We reminded them that all the Sheahans and Murdochs were there and it was the first home game after the tragedy.’
He added: ‘Brothers scored straight from our kick-off. We were pretty up against it. I didn’t know if we were going to end up getting beat by 60.
‘When they came off at half-time they were buggered. And half-defeated. There wasn’t a lot of talk.’
After Iafano’s half-time call-to-arms, Brothers’ dangerman Pilchowski became a marked player.
An almighty second-half saw his side fight their way back into the game – before grabbing the unlikeliest of victories at the end.
Iafano said: ‘We reminded them that we played against Centrals last year – when they came back and drew the game after being well down at the break.
‘It felt like a win. I just reminded them about that.
‘They came out firing. There was a lot of talk. They kept turning up.
‘Kalen Corradi was outstanding.’
Giant forward Shaun Devietti and Grant Martin – who was a pallbearer at Will’s funeral – grabbed a try each.
Brothers’ Pilchowski scored his fourth with Jessie James also scoring for the away team, to set up a tense last five minutes – with Crushers trailing 20-18.
Iafano added: ‘We were 18-20 down with a couple of minutes to go. It was forwards and backwards for the last five minutes.
‘Then Jack Butcher dummied a pass to Shaun Devietti. They bought it – and he went under the posts.
‘There was a big release of emotion when we won.’
Iafano said that his players had mustered up young Murdoch’s spirit in the second-half.
‘The way the game panned out, it was in Will’s style. Never give up. That was a big characteristic of Will.
‘We could be 20 points down with ten minutes to go – and he’d just keep fighting and making his teammates battle, right to the end.’
The side played the match with only 15 players, meaning they had two substitutes compared to Brothers’ seven.
Iafano said: ‘Brothers were the better side on the day, but we never gave up. We showed great spirit. I am so proud of the boys.’