The Geraldton Hockey Association could not have scripted a more dramatic end to the season as the Rovers claimed a stunning victory on Saturday night.
In a pulsating match under the lights in front of raucous supporters, the Rovers ended their drought and completed a club double with a 3-2 overtime victory.
Casuals were the heavy favourites going into the clash looking to complete a hat-trick of premierships and had only lost one game all season.
The Rovers did push them in their last game in a 2-1 result but one felt they would need to play extremely well and have a bit of luck in order to get over the line.
They got off to the worst start possible as the Casuals got the opening goal inside the first two minutes.
A high ball was flicked into the circle as Kyle Avery made the decision to come out and contest for the ball but could not get his stick on it.
The ball fell to his side and Tedd Kerr was waiting to sweep it home.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Paul Valenti was given a yellow card for admonishing with the umpire and then had another player sent off with a green card to leave them with nine on the field.
The Casuals were all over them with the Rovers hanging on has they were forced to sit and wait until they could get players back on the field.
Held on they did and with a full complement the Rovers began to press the Casuals as momentum began to shift the Redbacks’ way.
They won a short corner but couldn’t make anything of it but would have been pleased with how they finished the quarter, after such a disastrous start, to only be 1-0 down.
After such a dominating season the Casuals remained on the back foot as they just couldn’t maintain control of the ball to launch any meaningful thrusts into the Rovers’ defence.
The Redbacks were peppering away firing a shot on either side of the Cougars goal and then had a player advantage when Casuals received their first green card for the night.
But the Cougars’ defence has been miserly all season and despite having to play most of the game in their own half they were defending soundly enough with clear-cut attempts hard to come by.
They maintained their 1-0 advantage into half-time with the Rovers on top in all areas except the scoreboard.
It was a theme that would continue into the third quarter as the Redbacks won a short corner early forcing the save from Angus Grant.
They had another shortly after but nothing was doing from that either has they continued to hack away at the Cougars to no avail.
Another shot went just wide and then a terrific cross into the circle was just too hot for Camron Hoefhamer and it looked like it was just going to be ‘one of those nights’ for the Rovers.
But then Riley McKoy got on a run down the right wing into the circle to beat the goalkeeper, who came out to challenge flicking a pass to Tyler Allen who tapped in to finally get the breakthrough.
It was no less than they deserved after dominating most of the match.
But after all that hard work Casuals won a short corner shortly after and Clint Yeates drilled it home from the trap to restore the Casuals’ lead.
They had only gone into the circle twice and they scored on both occasions and that efficiency looked like it was going to be the difference on the night as the Cougars took a 2-1 lead into the final quarter.
After the goal the Casuals once again sat back as Rovers attempted to find a way through.
Hoefhamer was played through to a one-on-one but Grant came out of goals at the perfect time to deny the shot before McKoy fired a shot just to the right.
The pressure was relentless but the Rovers were running out of time with the Cougars seemingly happy to just try and hold on.
The Rovers basically willed themselves to a short corner just trying to throw enough bodies into the circle to try and create a chance.
After so many wasted, with just three minutes remaining James Van Niftrik had ice in his veins to finally convert and let out a roar has he tied the game.
It sent the game into extra time as the teams finished at 2-2 but there was no denying Rovers were looking like the better side.
It was now golden goal with seven and a half minutes each way to try and separate the two teams and after a fierce game there were more than a few tired bodies out on the turf.
As fate would have it they would only need another three minutes.
A long ball found Kye McVee on the right side as he worked to the edge of the circle and found an angle to fire it in at pace.
There was a moment of silence before the thud of the ball hit the back as the Rovers crowd erupted in a moment of pure ecstasy, the Redbacks threw their sticks in the air and swarmed as they claimed their first title in more than 20 years.
It was an unbelievable finish to a truly fantastic match but it came at little comfort to the Casuals players, particularly Grant who laid motionless on the turf for some time after being unable to stop McVee’s rocket.
A despondent Casuals captain Brent Allen spoke after the match.
“Congratulations to Rovers, a really hard-fought tough game,” he said.
“To our boys, we’ve had an absolute cracking season no one’s been able to come close to us, this hurts.”
“We’ll be back.”
Jarrod Jupp was the MVP on the night for Casuals.
Rovers coach Paul Valenti said it was an unreal feeling.
“It’s all a bit surreal right now, thank you to Casuals for an outstanding game,” he said.
“It’s awesome to finally be here after all these years.”
Tyler Allen became the third generation of Allens to win the premiership for Rovers as Trevor Allen was on hand with his father and club founder Ken to present the cup.
“We’ve been waiting 25 years for this one and it gives me great pleasure for my father to present this cup to Tyler,” he said.