The big, the old & the ugly: Unsung heroes who have led Gordon into Shute Shield decider

By Jon Geddes

“A BIG old ugly pack” has been instrumental in Gordon’s amazing late season revival which has resulted in the Highlanders lining up against Sydney University in Saturday’s Shute Shield grand final at Leichhardt Oval.

That description of the Highlanders’ forwards comes from one of their own, inspirational skipper and No.7 James Lough.

Midway through the premiership Gordon were languishing at the bottom end of the ladder and a finals appeared a distant pipedream.

A late season revival saw them scrape into seventh spot. In the finals series Gordon have subsequently beaten Warringah, Randwick and Norths in sudden death clashes to qualify for the premiership decider.

Laying the platform have been those eight men up front who stoked the engine by getting down and dirty in the scrums, mauls and lineouts.

“We’ve got a big, old ugly pack, there’s no other way to put it,” Lough told Rugby News.      

“When you look at them, they are old and they are hard and they know the job and a lot of them have been grand finalists.”

That Gordon pack was relentless in last Sunday’s convincing 23-13 win over arch-rivals Northern Suburbs in their preliminary final at Rat Park.

With University also boasting imposing forward power, the grand final will be another big test for Lough and his mates.

And for the Gordon captain, it is a case of bring it on.

“I can’t wait, we love giving it to Uni,” Lough said. “It will be a battle and a half and we are ready to go.”

Lough was justifiably delighted with last Sunday’s victory that now sees Gordon one win away from being crowned premiers.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said after the game. “I think we have turned it on and done the right things at the right time of the year.

“All week we had to stop hurting ourselves and consolidate and I think we did that well and executed where we needed to.

“We had a couple of injuries last week but the next man steps up and does the job.

 “I am proud of my boys.”

Lough said while the team has had better patches through the season, the win over Norths last Sunday was their best complete performance.

And he had some ominous words ahead of the grand final.

“The interesting thing is I really think we have a whole other step to go. We are on the way up, we haven’t actually reached our peak,” he said.

THE STRIKE OF BRIAN 

GORDON’S resurgence and masterminding the victory over Norths is a credit to the job done by their coach Brian Melrose in really challenging circumstances.

“It was a game where we had to play a certain way,” he said. “Losing both our centres meant we didn’t have the connection in attack.

“We knew we were going to have to play a grinding game, so we went to work on a basic plan and luckily enough we got there.” 

Melrose said his pack just had to lead the way against Norths as there was no alternative.

“You’ve got no idea, there were only three or four fit backs on the field and another three injured from last week,” he revealed. “Unfortunately we have spent that much time in stressful games and with injury but we found a way.”

He said amongst the usual suspects, Barrie Karea stepped in at No.12 and did a great job defensively and was full of praise for halfback Harrison Goddard, who has been signed by the Waratahs.

“He was immense, in defence Harrison Goddard was amazing,” Melrose said.

Looking at the build-up to the grand final Melrose said: “We just have to stay calm, stay focussed. It’s only a six-day turnaround.

“We have just literally been taking it a day at a time, we’ll unpack the battle kit and that’s what we do.”

Looking at Gordon’s revival in the second half of the competition Melrose never lost faith that his team could make the grand final.

“Obviously we were in a bit of a hole but we never felt we were as bad as the results, we were only a few points away,” he said.

“When faced with a bit of adversity, it can help if you can get through it and makes you stronger.”

To put Gordon’s effort into perspective, the team was sitting in 10th spot on the ladder with eight rounds to go.  

“It’s been like 12 weeks walking on a tightrope,” Melrose said.