Cowra Eagles suffered heartbreak on different levels on Saturday.
Firstly through the passing of club stalwart Billy Rowlands who had been the heart and soul of the Eagles and then from a one point loss to Orange Emus.
Cowra fans watched as an eleven point lead evaporated in the final 15 minutes to leave them without a win after six rounds of the Blowes Clothing Cup competition.
In an amazing statistic, Cowra failed to set foot inside their opposition’s 22-metre line until the final minute of the first half when they created half a chance and only ventured to Emus half on a handful of occasions in the opening 40 minutes.
With no ball, the Eagles were pinned permanently defending their line as Emus mounted countless raids.
Incredibly, Cowra held, conceding only a penalty goal and a drop goal through Graydon Staniforth to go to the break six points in arrears.
It was an inspired defensive effort according to Eagles’ coach Colin Kilby.
“It was a very gutsy display - a massive effort there,” he said.
“I don’t think we had 10 minutes of ball.”
In the second half, the Eagles re-introduced themselves to the pill and, as possession was far more even, began to work themselves into point scoring positions.
Mick Sheehy obliged with a penalty goal in the 52nd minute before a show and go from Cowra’s fly half five minutes later saw him crash over next to the posts to lead 10-6.
With 20 minutes remaining, Cowra began to splinter the Emus through the ruck area and were rewarded with a try through Jeremy Montgomery, who had moved from centre to the pack, after a strong rolling maul.
At 17-6 Eagles fans could taste the win that had evaded them this season.
Orange had other ideas, though, and cut the deficit to six with a try to Tom Green with 10 minutes on the clock.
A frantic end ensued.
Eagles’ winger Adam Wood had a great kick and chase to force a five-metre scrum but Cowra couldn’t seal it.
Then, fortune favoured the Emus who chipped over defenders and Issaac White got the perfect bounce running 40m to plant the ball under the posts.
The conversion put Emus’ noses in front at 18-17.
Jeremy Montgomery forced a charge-down off an Emus’ clearing kick and scrambled desperately only to see the ball dribble sideways and go touch in goal when he grounded it.
Emus had escaped and the Eagles were left deflated.
“We just need to find a way to win and how to put sides away,” Kilby said.
“We have to maintain pressure - every time we put points on, we failed at the kick off which relieved the pressure.
“We’re getting closer.”
Emus’ coach Paul Ringland was happy with the result saying his side had prepared for a grinding match.
“We always knew that Cowra was going to be very tough over here, especially with the passing of their legend [Billy Rowlands],” he said.
“It looked pretty desperate there with 10 mins to go but the boys knuckled down and finished off which was really pleasing.
“We were dominant in the first half, but it is hard to score a try here and we were lucky enough to get away with the win in the end.”
“We are nowhere near our best at the moment which is probably a good thing - we have a few good players to come back and we hope to stay in the top five for the whole season and have a real dig at the end of the year.”
The game was played as a curtain-raiser to the Australian Rugby Shield fixture between NSW Country Cockatoos and Queensland Country Heelers with a minutes silence being observed to honour Rowlands.
Final Score Orange Emus 18 (Tom Green, Issaac White tries; Graydon Staniforth pen goal; field goal; conv) defeated Cowra Eagles 17 (Mick Sheehy, Jeremy Montgomery tries; Mick Sheehy pen goal, 2 conv)