Milroy on song as Wicks edge Wests in opening day thriller

Photo: SPA Images

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Randwick’s season started as last year’s had finished – on a sunny afternoon at Concord Oval. Their last visit had seen them humbled by a superior Sydney University outfit in the Grand Final, but any ghosts from that day were soon laid to rest with a 28-21 victory that ushered in a new era under returning club legend Gary Ella.

This was by no means a stroll in the park for the Wicks however. A fiercely competitive West Harbour, keen to carry on with the good work done last time around, pushed their visitors all the way to the final whistle, and showed enough with ball in hand to suggest that they will again prove a handful in this years competition.

Last years self-styled ‘entertainers’ have seen a few changes in personnel, but the dynamics and essence of their play remain, and better execution in advanced positions at times could well have seen a different outcome in this match.

Both teams struggled to blow away the cobwebs in the early exchanges and handling errors at either end derailed any potential pointscoring opportunities, although Matt Carraro looked the man most likely to make a breakthrough with a succession of damaging runs at the Wests defence.

With the game still scoreless after 25 minutes, an arm wrestle was developing for possession. But Randwick’s superior kicking was starting to tell, and a bout of pressure finally forced a penalty in front of the posts, giving Marshall Milroy the chance to score the opening points of the contest on his return to Sydney club rugby.

That was quickly followed up by the first five-pointer of the day, when an arcing run from Bernie Orbell and a neat exchange of passes in the corner left Milroy with a free run to the line. A perfect day for the winger thus far was curtailed by his failed conversion.

Randwick were now starting to punch holes in a defensive line that looked in need of a half-time respite from the unseasonal heat. But just as it looked like the boys from Coogee would go to the sheds with a confident lead, the Pirates struck back.

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Wests flyhalf Jai Ayoub showed plenty of nice touches – Photo: SPA Images

From their own scrum feed, Wests flyhalf Jai Ayoub carried the ball away from traffic where it proceeded to pass through two sets of hands on its way out wide to the waiting Dan Thomas, who did the rest. Captain Steve Massey converted to leave us with a one-point ball game at oranges.

The first 10 minutes of the second stanza saw a Randwick side determined to re-assert themselves both on the pitch and the scoreboard. But after failing to convert their dominance of territory and possession they were left stunned once again when Wests posted their second try of the afternoon.

A terrific 50-metre break by the speedy Ayoub saw him shrugging off several defenders before offloading to his inside runner, who found John Sinisa in plenty of space on the right to outpace the last man and give the home side a four-point lead.

That soon became six as Massey saw his kick divert the right way off one of the uprights and the raucous home crowd could suddenly smell victory in the air.

The game started to open up with the Galloping Greens building phases but going nowhere, and Wests happy to soak up pressure and counter-attack at will when turnover ball was created. Another great break through the middle saw Ayoub pulled down 20 metres short with options available.

With the clock running down, the visitors saw a gilt edged chance for Orbell wasted by a forward pass, but play had already been called back for an earlier infringement. Milroy kept them in the mix with a successful penalty kick – no doubt grateful for the chance to eradicate his woefully short attempt just five minutes earlier.

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Wicks’ no.8 Rodney Voullaire carries the fight to the Pirates defence – Photo: SPA Images

With the bit now between their teeth the Wicks went in for the kill, and after another solid line-out the ball was swept into the midfield area before quick hands and a snipe by No. 8 Rodney Voullaire saw them recapture the lead. Milroy added the extras and Wests had paid the price for switching off for five crucial minutes.

Their attempts to redress the balance were seemingly ended after they found themselves down to 14 men after a sin-binning for the taking out of a Randwick player in backplay. The resultant penalty saw a 21-14 lead for the visitors, which would be maintained until a final, frantic minute of action confirmed the result.

Wests went for broke and a speculative chip and regather attempt was fielded expertly by Wicks fullback Tim Wright, who stepped out of a couple of tackles and then suddenly saw open air in front of him, pinned his ears back and went under the posts for the decisive score.

There seemed to be barely enough time remaining after Milroy’s successful conversion, but Randwick were clearly already celebrating when Pirates’ centre David Tautaiolefue picked up a loose ball from the restart and forced his way over the line.

Massey’s conversion earned Wests a valuable bonus point and if they can take anything from this game it’s the fact that they competed for a full 80 minutes. They didn’t let their heads drop and accept that the game was gone and across a long season, who knows how valuable that point might prove to be come finals time?

A positive return for Gary Ella then, with the promise of more to come once his backline really starts to click and move through the gears. On this evidence, an exciting competition and a healthy amount of tries should be enjoyed by both clubs’ respective supporters over the coming months. But will either of them make it to the final day? Play on…

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RANDWICK 28 (Marshall Milroy, Tim Wright, Rodney Voullaire tries; Marshall Milroy 2 cons, 2 pens, Tim Walsh pen) defeated WEST HARBOUR 21 (Dan Thomas, David Tautaiolefue, John Sinisa tries; Steve Massey 3 cons) at Concord Oval. HT: Randwick 8-7

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First published by http://www.clubrugby.com.au on March 28th, 2009

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