The Wash-Up: Round 8 – Randwick v Manly
by Paul Cook –
A five match winning run came to an end in the wet the previous weekend for Randwick at Uni Oval No.1, so the visit of the high flying Marlins was an opportunity to get back on the horse at the first attempt as well as another chance to test themselves against one of the Shute Shield title favourites. However, the loss of seven players to the Australia U20’s squad for the Oceania Junior Rugby Championships left them somewhat vulnerable. Given their unbeaten start to the season, it wasn’t as though Manly needed much of a helping hand and the visitors arrived at Coogee Oval with the weight of recent history firmly in their favour, the sides having met three times last season with the Marlins racking up a total of 150pts.
To exhaust an age old cliché once more, this was very much a game of two halves. Manly came out of the sheds with all guns blazing and simply blew away their hosts with the very best of their power game on display. Two early tries from Chris Yarrington and BJ Hartmann had Randwick on the backfoot – outmuscled, outfought and outmanoeuvred – and without the guile of David Horwitz to settle fraying nerves and guide them around the park, they were always in danger of being smothered.
A brief rally at the start of the second quarter could have built some momentum if they’d scored a confidence boosting try. But Manly’s defence was in a miserly mood and the rest of the half belonged to the Marlins, their set-piece dominance earning a penalty try before hooker Dave Porecki pounced off a short ball to open up a 26pt lead at the break.
The second half looked set to go the same way as last season’s corresponding fixture, which ended with an emphatic 60-12 win for the visitors. But a half-time spray from coach Shannon Fraser had the desired effect and his Galloping Greenhorns suddenly found their mettle, got down and dirty at the breakdown and gave it a red hot go.
The fact that they were unable to make any headway on the scoreboard was another tick in the box marked defence for the Marlins, Ed Gower in particular a standout with some crucial spoiler plays. As a result, the half played out with the Wicks giving their all in vain and Manly seemingly content with their lot before one final incursion saw replacement Mitch Lewis over in the closing minute to put the icing on the cake at 34-3.
“It’s up there as one of our best performances so far, particularly the first half,” Manly head coach Damien Cummins told Rugby News at full-time. “To hold Randwick to no tries at Coogee Oval, I don’t know how long it’s been since that happened but it’s pretty rare so I’m very proud in that regard.
“Randwick have a massive tradition as a club, I played here years and years ago when it wouldn’t be uncommon to have a test match on a Saturday and then come and play them on a Sunday and have ten Wallabies playing here so, there’s a real tradition here and for me, a win here is up there with your Sydney Uni’s and our games against the Rats.”
Skipper, Kotoni Ale, was just as pleased with the manner and significance of the result. “It’s always tough to come here and play Randwick and get the win so to do so with a bonus point and without them scoring a try is very pleasing and we’re very happy as a team with the way today went,” he said.
“They’re a young side, we watched a bit of footage of them and we knew they could have a go at us from anywhere on the field today so we set out to put pressure on them and try to force mistakes. We pride ourselves on our defence and I thought we really brought that today, our attitude at the breakdown was phenomenal, we applied a lot of pressure there and caused plenty of chaos so we were pretty stoked with that as a unit.”
The scoreline proved to be an anomaly on the day, Randwick giving the Marlins a touch-up in every other grade and in colts, a sure sign that the Wicks, as a club, are heading in the right direction. Cummins was pleased his charges got their homework right for the big one.
“To their credit, throughout every grade today they’ve set the tone of the game and we knew we were going to be up against a style that we haven’t played this year, they’re happy to run from anywhere,” he said. “In the first half, their main attack was probably 15 phases, whereas most teams might have said ‘We haven’t got over the advantage line, we’ll just play the corners’, so we were aware of some of their pet plays and were able to shut them down, which was really good.
“Sometimes, when you look at the opposition, we might look at one player, whether he’s a danger or a liability, today was more a case of what they do well as a collective. They tore Easts apart so I had a good look at that and what worked for them and we tried to shut down three or four of their plays and it seemed to work.”
What really opened the door for the visitors, was the brutality of their first quarter onslaught. As Randwick Director of Rugby Nick Ryan conceded, while the Galloping Greens improved in the second stanza, the game was already out of their reach.
“The really disappointing thing was our first half and not meeting that challenge,” he said. “It wasn’t so much the mistakes or the continuity of our play, it was the intent that we were lacking. To the boys credit, the second half was a better show of intent but unfortunately, the horse had well and truly bolted by the time the penny dropped.”
“Manly just came out firing,” agreed flanker Sam Figg. “The aggression they showed was something that we couldn’t answer for the first half and I don’t want to say it was a game of two halves but it really was. Manly were dominant in the first 40 and that was reflected on the scoreboard but we aimed up after the break, we started to put pressure on them and we started demanding that they play our style of football. As a result, the game was much more contestable and again, the scoreboard was a reflection of that.”
It’s one thing knowing what the opposition are likely to bring to the table, it is another to effectively repel it. Figg and Ryan had a couple of theories as to why they had started so slowly.
“We spoke a lot during the week about what they were going to do and maybe that was our undoing a little bit,” offered Figg. “We needed to go out and demand that they played our style of footy, instead, we allowed them to come to us and we were waiting for them to do what they wanted to do. That’s why they got that early lead.
“Two tries behind, you do start throwing it around a bit more and you do start maybe edging a little too much and maybe that’s a case of maturity, maybe it’s a case of it being round eight as the game you play know to the game you play in finals is very different,” he continued. “I think it will be a vastly different match-up when we play them again.”
For Ryan, there was a worrying sense of déjà vu about proceedings. “I do think there was a little bit of a carry over in some of our guys from last year with us having copped three maulings from them,” he posited. “There were a few out there that were ‘deer in the headlights’ for a while. Then you throw in the young kids we’ve got who are still 18 or 19-years-old and not an ideal mix and when the pressure and the heat came on from Manly, we kind of relented a little bit, instinctively, as a group.
“The second half was a lot better because they were given plenty of strong ‘encouragement’ to do so at half-time. It wasn’t so much a rant, more a challenge to say ‘Hey, if you don’t dig your heels in here, this could get ugly – it’s up to you’. The character in this group is very good and that’s what makes the first half so disappointing.”
Midway through that first half, the Wicks had managed to stop the rot for a while, got some ball and maybe, just maybe, a score at that point may have lifted the side and put a different spin on the outcome. Instead, they failed to cross the chalk, conceded a scrum penalty which led to another 3pts, and to top it off, replacement prop Thierry ‘Darche’ Kuate came on, conceded a penalty try within 20 seconds and went to the bin.
“That was a case of being under pressure and relenting back to a few individuals trying to solve problems and one of the things we said at half-time was ‘Don’t do things we don’t practice’,” explains Ryan. “If you keep to a structure and everyone has a common approach, there’s less likelihood of mistakes, particularly when you’ve got new guys in key positions and I thought there were some good little passages in the second half where we held onto the ball and made some inroads.
“When we did get our hands on it we looked ok but I think we turned the ball over four or five times at first phase in the first half and when we got to second or third phase we generally kicked it without much thought or process. When you hand the ball over eight or nine times to Manly, aside from whatever they get themselves, it makes it pretty hard.”
While nobody affiliated to the Myrtle Green offered it up as an excuse, the fact that seven of their best players – including their halves pairing in Deegan and Horwitz and their most dangerous ball runner and try threat in Andrew Kellaway – were up on the Gold Coast playing in the Oceania Junior Rugby Championship for the Aussie U20’s, obviously left them behind the eight ball. But what it did do, despite the result, was provide an opportunity for some of Randwick’s next generation to get some valuable experience, no matter how uncomfortable it may have been at times.
“With some inexperienced guys in key positions, how to manage the game is probably not a strength at the moment and that’s where we really needed to be collectively on the same page,” says Ryan. “To expect a 19-year-old halfback and a guy making his 1st Grade debut at 10 to run the show, when people aren’t sticking to things, is a big ask.
“The good thing about the club this year is that we’re going well in the club championship and our colts are on fire and there’s no point having kids that you believe in if you don’t play them. That was a bit of the rationale for us today, the guys that we put in are not at the levels of some of the guys they faced yet but they’re certainly not 34-3 worse then them.
“To that end, we are disappointed because we thought we could do better than that but across the day, we’ve just won six out of seven against Manly, a strong club who we have probably modelled a bit of our resurgence on. So, a great day for the club as a whole but its the last game that was the most disappointing one.”
Of course, there is no time for sentiment in the cut and thrust of the Shute Shield. From a Manly perspective, the absence of some of Randwick’s finest was simply one of those things.
“Dave Horwitz is a dangerous player and Andrew Deegan is extremely talented so yeah, maybe it was a good time to get them today but that’s just the way it is,” said Damien Cummins. “You can only play what’s in front of you and if they don’t have their top players it’s just bad luck.”
Such ruthlessness will serve the Marlins well as they seek a second successive Minor Premiership before a headlong tilt at a long awaited Grand Final. But, with a bonus point in the bag and the game effectively wrapped up, were they guilty of switching off ever so slightly after half-time?
“I think we needed to put points on early in the second half to really kill the game but we made a few mistakes and then backed our defence as they got a few attacks going,” says Kotoni Ale. “We put away one more try at the end but I think it’s always hard to get away so early and score that many points and keep it going for the full 80. Sometimes, you win games with defence and in that second half, we just stuck up for each other and worked hard around the corners.”
“The reality is we could have scored five more tries but we didn’t and that was down to a couple of forward passes and little errors but I’m glad we didn’t score 30pts in the second half,” said Cummins. “I’m glad we didn’t have to defend, I’m glad we had to scrummage and I’m glad we had to scrap on our line and get penalised repeatedly and get a yellow card – I don’t mind that. You wouldn’t want it every week but today it was good because the guys need to know that they have to work.”
Next up for Manly is the heavyweight clash against fellow front runners Eastwood at the Village Green. Seven wins from seven (they still have a game in hand against Norths due to the weather) is a fine platform to go into such a decisive fixture but captain Ale thinks the best approach to facing the reigning Premiers is to focus on themselves.
“We’re pretty happy with how things have gone so far but it’s still early days. We’re obviously working towards the business end of the season with a view to hitting our straps then and we’ll take every win that comes from now on but more importantly, we have to keep learning and keep improving as a team.
“Next week brings another big challenge in Eastwood so we’ll be ready for that, we’ll regroup during the week and get our structures in place for them,” Ale continued. “We defend well, we play off our forwards well and that opens the door for our backs, who are quick and sharp and need space to work in, so we need to earn that space for them.
“We’re not going to change much so we’ll stick to our game plan and hopefully, that will be enough against Eastwood. Sometimes, when you focus on another team, your pattern goes out the window so, we’ll focus on ourselves and if they can keep up with us then so be it, we’ll change it on the day but we can’t really go away from what we do well.”
For the Wicks, it’s a case of taking their medicine from this one, regrouping and going again, as they prepare for the visit of Southern Districts.
“I don’t really believe in putting things to bed per se, every game you play, you kind of have to remember,” says Sam Figg. “We took something away from the Uni game last week and we’ll take something away from Manly today. In the first half we looked like a bunch of boys and that was embarrassing and there’s nothing worse than being embarrassed on a footy field so you’ve got to remember that and you’ve got to come out with better aggression from the get-go next time out.
“This is what happens in seasons, you go through little bumps and more often than not, those bumps are actually what a team needs. We are a young side but we are building and guys are learning and I’d much rather learn those lessons earlier in the season than come finals time. We are on a hard roll now and we did set goals for ourselves in winning a couple against these top teams but it’s nothing we’re too worried about at the moment, we’re still on track.”
“Souths have got a monster forward pack, a very good nine and a very good ten whose strength is kicking out of hand so we got a bit of a taste of what’s coming today,” said Nick Ryan. “That’s the good thing about training during the week, we’ve now got three cracks at getting it better on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday night. We’ll be back.”