HISTORY MAKER: McLennan rises for grand final
RUGBY UNION: Barely able to sit up on the bench after being knocked out in action, it was Mitch McLennan's heart that hurt the most.
The Yamba Buccaneers had come within one try of a historic grand final win against Grafton Redmen, and the 20-year-old firebrand Number 8 promised himself he would never feel that way again.
That was 2002. Now, 16 years later, McLennan is not backing down on his promise as he lines up for his third grand final in the yellow and black of the Buccaneers.
"Not a lot has changed, the young fellas still go harder than the old ones. It's just now I am one of the older ones,” he said.
"The nerves are still the same, you still get that buzz, I think it's half the reason I came back to the sport.”
McLennan has been in two grand finals since that fateful day in 2002, winning with the Lower Clarence Magpies in 2009, and the Buccaneers the following season.
The 2010 grand final would actually be his last game of rugby, until his hunger to return became insatiable this season.
"I actually ruptured my knee in the grand final for Lower, and I didn't get to return to the field until halfway through that 2010 season,” McLennan said.
"Since then I have had two ACL reconstructions in my right knee, and a cartilage clean-out in my left knee. I also had kids which takes up a lot of your spare time.
"I can't honestly say what spurred me to come back. I got through a season of touch football last year, and I was just driving past one day and thought I'd see if they were alright for numbers.
"I've played every game for the club since that day.
"I am glad I came back, I guess I never thought I was truly retired, it was just injuries that kept me out. But this will definitely be it for me.”
McLennan has brought a welcomed experience to the Buccaneers bench, working in a rotation with the club's exciting forward pack.
He will also be a calming influence for players who are keen to avenge last year's grand final loss against Evans River.
"We have touched on last year's result but we haven't dwelled on it,” he said.
"I know it was hard enough for me as a fan on the sideline, I can only imagine how the boys who played are feeling.
"We just need to keep our heads, and make sure we put the things we have spoken about into practice.”
The Buccaneers will have all the momentum heading into the grand final after winning the last few clashes against Evans River including a gutsy 24-18 win in the major semi-final a fortnight ago.
The Yamba side gave up more than 75 per cent of possession in the second-half of the semi-final, but it was the way they gritted their teeth and dug in the heels that has the side full of belief today.
"We got a little bit caught up on a few refereeing decisions and lost our way a bit there, but we have worked on that in the past fortnight,” McLennan said.
"I think we're quietly confident going into the grand final knowing that we can overcome the Evans boys.”
In the Far North Coast Rugby first grade decider, Wollongbar-Alstonville will be aiming to equal Lennox Head's record of five straight premierships.
1 Jordan Walker, 2 Thomas Mather, 3 Bleddyn Gant, 4 Rob Hill, 5 Ewen McQueen, 6 Tom Durrington, 7 Ryan Green, 8 Joe Walker, 9 Sam Zuill, 10 Jason James (c), 11 Callan Obst, 12 Luke Roberts, 13 Andrew Kapeen, 14 Adrian Miller, 15 Kris Thomsen
INT: 16 Stephen Hind, 17 Mitch McLennan, 18 Rob Tierney, 19 Scott Boothby, 20 Michael McCarthy, 21 Sam Bloomer, 22 Troy Harding, 23 Pat Hughes.
Coach: Scott Moore.