Former Wallaby playmaker Bernard Foley becomes an honorary Bowraville Goanna

The Goannas were winners of one of the NSW Waratahs' Daikin merchandise packs earlier this season.

The Goannas were winners of one of the NSW Waratahs' Daikin merchandise packs earlier this season.

It's been a year full of highs and lows for Bowra's rusted-on rugby boys.

Smack bang in the middle of league heartland, it's been tough some years to find the numbers to field a full team.

"We always struggle with players because of the strength of league," Bowraville Goannas Rugby Union Club president Scott Rouse said.

"Yeah, we had a few years when we were only taking five or six blokes to a game against a First Grade team with 30 players," player Brock Beverley said.

But though they may be few, they're fierce. Since reforming in 2007, the Goannas have fought their way into four grand finals.

The last two years we'd have 12 to 15 players most games and still nearly win.

Brock Beverley

So it was hugely exciting for the club this year when 20 fellas were showing up to pre-season training consistently.

"A lot of boys returned home to the Valley this year and wanted to play, and when the rugby league season was cancelled a few came here - they just wanted to get a game of footy in," Scott said.

Amongst the group of twenty were the Foley brothers - David, Conor and Bernard.

The name Bernard Foley might ring a bell for some - he's been the chief playmaker for the Wallabies for the past five years.

After two thrilling match-winning penalty goals - a 45 metre effort in the 79th minute with the NSW Waratahs in the 2014 Super Rugby Final, and then again against Scotland in the 2015 World Cup, which catapulted Australia into a semi-final spot against Argentina - Bernard earned the nickname 'the Iceman', for his remarkable ability to remain cool under intense pressure.

According to the stats on rugby.com.au, during the 2015 World Cup Bernard also "broke the Australian record for most individual points" with 28 of Australia's 33 in a World Cup pool clash against our old foe England at Twickenham.

After last year's World Cup, Australia said sayonara to the five-eighth after he signed a contract with the Kubota Spears - a team in Japan's Top League.

But the Japanese season, which kicked off in January, was cut short in March due to the pandemic.

"Coming back from Japan so suddenly, I sort of wanted to be somewhat useful," Bernard told Rugby.com.au recently.

"Fortunately the family, we've always had a farm (in Bowraville), and my brother (David) has been managing it the last four or five years, so I thought what a good way to do something new and different and come live on the farm and be of some use ... rather than just sitting in an apartment or house in Sydney in lockdown."

"It was good to have him here and get to spend a bit of time with him," David said.

David and Bernard Foley at home on the family farm

David and Bernard Foley at home on the family farm

And as soon as restrictions eased allowing training to start up again, Bernard took the opportunity to join his brothers on the Hennessey Tape Oval at Bowraville.

He brought his wealth of experience to training, and the Goannas ate it up.

"It was great for the side - the boys liked it and listened," David said.

"Yeah it was really good to have him here - he had a few different drills and skills to show us," Scott said.

But there was no pretension. During his time running with the Goannas Bernard was just 'one of the lads', and made the weekly post-training pilgrimage to the Bowra Hotel for boat races and yarns with the rest of the team.

"It was good - he was just really down to earth, easy to get along with," player Mike Tyerman said.

Bernard, too, seems to have benefitted from the local experience.

"When you are involved in teams, campaigns, whatever, you can get lost in the real reasons of why you play the game. To see guys want to turn up, want to play footy and want to have that camaraderie and friendship is amazing," he said to Rugby.com.au.

"Guys travel from South West Rocks to come and be involved and even in-season they travel up to two-and-a-half hours just to get a game. It's that commitment - guys want to get around each other, rock up, have a good time, play a bit of footy - which has been extremely refreshing for me.

I don't want to be a cliché, but that's why you come back and enjoy it and that's why I've enjoyed rocking up to training, playing with these guys. There's some really talented footy players too, and guys that want to do some fitness after, but they also just want to go have a good time, train hard and play a game but catch up after and have a beer.

With everything in their corner, 2020 appeared to be the season of the Goanna.

"It looked like we were gonna have a good year this year - we would have given it a fair shake, that's for sure," player Jordan Leckie said.

And then the week before the season opener the team discovered it was all over before it had begun - a decision that Bernard said was a real "kick in the guts" to everyone that had been turning up since Summer wanting a game.

"We found out on the 8th (of July) that the season was cancelled, which was pretty brutal," Scott said.

A request from the Goannas to join the Lower Mid North Coast competition was also turned down.

But while other small country clubs in the region have come and gone, the Goannas have maintained a 'never say die' attitude.

Not wanting to waste a season, they've teed up a handful of 'friendlies' against the Coffs Harbour Knights - a special 2020 merger between the Coffs Snappers and SCU Marlins.

In their first match up last week, the Goannas were down two points at half time. But a dominant second half saw them race ahead, finishing up 29-17.

Tomorrow's game, from 2.30pm, will be the Nambucca Valley's only home game of senior rugby this year.

The team said the lessons they've learnt this year will not be wasted - they'll be back to fight tooth and claw next year, before heading to the pub with their opponents for a brew.

"There's a core group here that just wants to keep playing - it comes down to friendship," Scott said.

"And we're always looking forward."

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