The Wash-Up: Rd 12 – Northern Suburbs v Warringah
by Paul Cook – (Click here for match highlights)
After a hugely promising start to life under new head coach Simon Cron, Norths have struggled through the middle third of the season, registering only one win in their last six matches. However, last weekend’s narrow defeat at the hands of the high flying Manly, served as a stark reminder of this team’s capabilities when they are on song. Warringah’s season has played out somewhat in reverse, with one win from their first four outings a cause for concern. But five victories in the seven games since has restored them to a position where they can justifiably target a successive top four finish.
While the final score and the fact that it only finished five tries to four in Warringah’s favour, may give the impression that this was a fairly tight run affair, the truth is that this was a game more or less sewn up by the Rats by half-time.
An early score from Junior Palau set them on their way before hooker Robert Kelly went over in the 17th minute, the Shoremen seemingly still in the sheds while their opponents ran riot with some scintillating attacking play.
The hosts did hit back a couple of minutes later through the impressive Lachie Creagh but it proved to be the merest of respites under the Warringah onslaught, the visitors concocting two more five pointers from Michael Adams and Jamie Forbes to lead 24-5 at oranges.
When Sam Crompton went in four minutes after the restart to make it 31-5, the writing was well and truly on the wall and despite the fact that the Shoremen rallied from that point to run in three tries and grab a bonus point, their resurgence was due more in part to Warringah putting the cue in the rack and switching off, than any great upturn in the Red and Black’s performance.
Warringah coach Greg Marr had been wary of this visit to North Sydney Oval but the way his side went about their business left him with a contented smile at full-time.
“The first 35 minutes was probably the best football we’ve played all year,” he told Rugby News. “We were expecting Norths to come out fired up today, we saw how they played in the first half against Manly last week and they’ve lost five of their last six and another loss today and their season could be almost gone, so we expected them to come at us from the off. Fortunately for us, we came out and played really well in the first half and put ourselves in a good position.”
“Our discipline let us down again in the second half, we gave away too many penalties and lost somebody to the bin and were left defending the fort for most of the half. We probably kicked a little bit too much as well but I think we deserved it for our first half performance and for the way we stuck to our guns towards the end.”
“I thought we were outstanding in the first half,” agreed influential Rats’ flyhalf Josh Holmes, who had a significant hand in at least two of his team’s tries. “The forwards were running the plays, the chat was good, everything was just working really well and it felt really comfortable. As a halfback you want the ball on a platter and our forwards have really stepped up big time this year and it’s making life a lot easier for me.
“Norths had lost five of their last six so we wanted to dig deep today and put something on them because that win gives us a bit of a gap on them again by about 6pts, which is very important, especially with six rounds to go. Also, it’s always been hard to come to North Sydney Oval and walk away with 5pts so that’s another positive.”
The win was a second in two meetings for the Rats over the Shoremen this season, following a narrow one point victory up at Rat Park in round two. But the greater disparity on the scoreboard this time around didn’t stop Greg Marr from throwing a few plaudits the way of his opponents.
“We had a tough game against them in the first round and I’m very impressed with the way they carry themselves and with their structures so, obviously they’re well coached,” he said. “They must have taken a lot of confidence out of the way they pushed Manly to the wire last week and they showed that by coming back at us. Other teams might have thrown the towel in at 24-5 down at half-time but they came back so there’s obviously some good players in that team and some good morale too.”
However, for Norths’ coach Simon Cron, the picture was far, far less rosier. His mantra when he took over was to foster a winning mentality and set some exacting standards in order to drive the progress needed to turn the Shoremen back into a Shute Shield force. Clearly frustrated with what he had just witnessed, he felt they had fallen well short of those standards on the day.
“Eastwood was our worst game points-wise this year but I’d say today was our worst game performance-wise,” he revealed. “We’ve lost some close ones by one or two points this season but there’s a lack of experience in the team and being able to close out those close games is something we’re still working on within that group. However, today was an embarrassment for us as a coaching staff.
“We had fourteen, maybe even fifteen players that walked out onto that field and looked like they were watching a movie for half a game,” Cron continued. “Technically, our ball carries were the weakest I’ve ever seen, you may as well reverse into somebody, and the guys who were supposed to be cleaning out did nothing. There were times out there where the boys scored some good tries but all the basic stuff was just so poor.”
Understandably, his greatest frustration lay with the fact that his side weren’t able to channel any momentum from last week’s effort against the unbeaten Marlins, into anything resembling a coherent start this time out.
“I talk to the players to try and work out why our starts are often so bad. Do we warm up differently?” he mused. “But as well as we played, there was no excuse for losing that game last week, it was just some key individual errors that put a lot of pressure on us. Today, unfortunately, those errors were more across the park, you can’t blame one or two guys out there for the loss, you’ve got to blame fifteen because mentality wise, they weren’t even on the field for the first 40.”
His captain, Ben Matwijow, bemoaned a sense of déjà vu about the team’s performance. It’s something he’s become annoyingly accustomed to.
“I think something we’ve always struggled with at this club is consistency and we’re not going to be a successful football team until we get some consistency in our performance,” said the 25-year-old loose forward. “Last week was our best performance of the year and we were unlucky to lose but then we show up today and put that out on the field and it’s just disappointing.
“We lacked desire from the get-go, let in a couple of soft tries early and we were chasing the game from there. Once we started playing direct and getting a bit of a roll on with the forwards, that’s when we were getting some pay and blokes like Lachie Creagh were finding some space. But it’s a matter of putting that out there for 80 minutes – it’s an old cliché but it’s true. Warringah were the better team today and its credit to them that they stuck it out and came down here and did a job on us.”
Despite the scoreline and the sombre mood in the home sheds, Matwijow wasn’t ready to write the Shoremen off by comparison to the tight contest the two sides had fought out earlier in the season.
“I don’t think we’ve regressed since then, I just think it was a one-off today where we didn’t show up to play footy and that’s probably the most disappointing thing,” he reflected. “When we do show up, we can beat anyone on their day and coming down the home stretch to the finals, those are the games we need to win against teams that are sitting in and around the same spot as us on the table.
“We’ve got to focus on next week, we need a win against Penrith, it’s crucial. After that we’ve got Gordon, Wests and Easts all at home and we need 5pts from all of them really. Gordon did a job on us at Chatswood Oval so you’d like to think we can bring them back here and get a bit of vengeance for that one.”
His coach also feels that the raw ingredients for success are still there, he and his coaching staff just need to find a way to bring them to the boil week in, week out.
“I believe we’ve got a team that should be playing finals footy,” reasons Cron. “We’ve lost four games within four points and they weren’t games in which we were beaten, they were games we lost ourselves. Win them and we’d be in a different place right now, so we need to coach a winning mentality. Our problem is that we can do it well for five minutes then have 10 off the boil, then five on and so on, so we’ve got a bit of work to do. But all we need to do is play the rugby that we train for, for 80 minutes, and we can beat anybody.”
For the Rats, the next couple of weeks are seen as crucial in locking down as many points as possible before they end the regular season with four back-to-back clashes that could make or break their finals ambitions.
“We’ve got Gordon and Penrith in the next fortnight, two games that I think we should be looking to win but Gordon beat Uni last week so that’ll be a tricky one,” says coach Marr. “After that we’ve got the four big teams in a row – Souths, Manly, Eastwood and Uni – so we’ve got to get our confidence up before we go into that run-in.
“If we win the next two, then play well against those top teams, you never know when it comes to semis. If we get there, I don’t think anyone’s overly dominant this year and we can give most teams a run for their money so we need to be confident in ourselves if and when we get to that point.”
“I think we’re only showing about 30 percent of what we’ve got, and if we can put two halves together like that, we’ll be a pretty dangerous side for anyone,” added Holmes. “We started the season off really slowly but now we’re starting to get our mojo back a little bit. We’re not going to set ourselves a goal, we’re just going to target the win each week and treat each game as it comes. There’s no reason why we can’t be right up there in the mix and come finals time, it’s anyone’s ball game.”
WARRINGAH 34 (Junior Palau, Robert Kelly, Michael Adams, Jamie Forbes, Sam Crompton tries; Hamish Angus 3 cons, pen) defeated NORTHERN SUBURBS 22 (Lachie Creagh 2, Ben Matwijow, James Brown tries; Josh Kay con)