DALBY ended its lengthy stint in the Wagners Risdon Cup premiership wilderness with a gripping grand final victory over Goondiwindi on Saturday.
The Wheatmen lifted the cup for the first time since 2004 after wearing down the gallant defending premiers 21-15 on a sodden Gold Park.
Dalby's victory followed its 2016 minor premiership win and successfully caps a long-range club plan, this season under coach Nathan Bradley, to return the Wheatmen to the top of the Downs Rugby tree.
After swapping early penalty goals, Dalby was first to cross the line when Sam Hogarth went over wide out in the 24th minute to put the Wheatmen up 8-3.
But six minutes later while Hogarth was in the bin after receiving a yellow card from referee Peter Buchanan Jnr when Emus captain-coach Matt Bell forced his way over to level the scores at 8-all.
Goondiwindi had its tail up and was in again six minutes later when centre Michael Jamieson latched onto a Sean Cairns pass and sprinted 50 metres to score between the posts for a 15-8 lead.
A second penalty goal from Dalby five-eighth Dan Merker four minutes before the break pulled Dalby's deficit back to 15-11 at half-time.
The second half produced some intense grand final rugby with points at a premium and the match locked in a desperate arm wrestle.
Dalby prop Michael Gall put the Wheatmen back in front in the 48th minute with a pushover try after some good goal-line pressure.
The three-point lead was enough to lift the Wheatmen who gradually turned up the pressure on the Emus who were playing their fourth successive match of the finals' series.
Goondiwindi fought hard to try and post a possible match-winning try in the final 15 minutes, but Dalby looked to find a "second wind” in the closing stages to keep the Emus scoreless for the second 40 minutes.
Merker put the finishing touches on Dalby's scoreline with a third penalty goal sealing what was a thoroughly deserved 21-15 victory.
Bradley paid tribute to his club's spirit in returning the cup to John Ritter Oval.
"This is the culmination of a combined club effort,” Bradley said.
"Since 2014 the club has had a plan to get us here with three teams today in grand finals.
"We backed our fitness today and Gundy to their credit were as hard as we expected after having a tough run through the finals.
"Gally (Michael Gall) was outstanding for us today, along with Andrew Turner and Sam Hogarth but it's just been a great team effort from everyone.”
Bell was high in his praise of Dalby's season-finishing effort.
"Dalby is a good side,” Bell said.
"They out-enthused us today with their young blokes.
"There's no excuses from us, we were just played out of the game.
"They are a very smart side with Andrew Turner leading them around the park.”
Merker was named grand-final man of the match.
DALBY 21 (Sam Hogarth, Michael Gall tries; Dan Merker 3 penalty goals, conversion) dGOONDIWINDI 15 (Matt Bell, Michael Jamieson tries; Will Gilbert conversion, penalty goal).
Toowoomba Rangers 26
d Dalby 22
(after extra time)
d Dalby 14