Hot-Shot Harvey gets Highlanders off the mark

Photo: SPA Images

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Gordon have claimed their first victory of the new season, coming from behind to down West Harbour 33-25 at Concord Oval. In a game where the lead see-sawed from one side to the other, it was Dave Harvey’s boot that kept the visitors in touch, but the Pirates looked to be in control when they held a 22-12 advantage with half an hour to play. However, the Highlanders bagged three tries in the last twenty minutes to kick-start their year, and leave a bemused Wests side still winless in 2010.

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With both sides desperate to break their duck for the season it was no surprise that they came out of the blocks firing. The vocal crowd at Concord Oval roared the home side forward, and it was they who were showing the more attacking intent early on. But it was a mistake that led to the first try of the day after 10 minutes.

Gordon were trying to clear their lines under pressure when a poor pass caught an unsuspecting Billy Ratu on his heel, and after a scramble the predatory Tito Mua pounced on the loose ball in goal to get the vital touch. Skipper Nick Reily pulled the conversion but it was a positive start for the Pirates.

Unfortunately – and this would become a theme for the afternoon – neither side seemed to have put much emphasis on their restarts during the week, as time and again the side who had just gained an advantage proceeded to cough up easy points moments later. The lead would change four times in the first half as a result.

Straight after Reily’s miss, Gordon’s forwards were allowed to regather Harvey’s kick ahead of some sleeping Wests’ receivers, and a penalty for the recently persistent crime of ‘not rolling away’ gifted the sharpshooter the three points.

Another restart brought another penalty for Gordon, and again the posts were seamlessly dissected by Harvey for a one point lead. Which lasted approximately one minute before the Pirates were awarded the next decision in the breakdown lottery, and Reily put them 8-6 ahead.

Afu, Pelea runs 010510D-7346.JPG

Pelea Afu was a damaging ball-runner for the Pirates – Photo: SPA Images

Gordon were playing the more structured game, using Harvey’s accuracy to kick to the corners. While the Pirates backline looked to run the ball and find some space, but they were definitely struggling to find the fluency we’ve become accustomed to in recent years.

Another infringement after 20 minutes was punished by Harvey to retake the lead, but when they were pinged again moments later by referee Callan O’Neill with the same end result, captain Reily embarked on a lengthy discussion with the official. It did appear that the Pirates were getting penalised at almost every breakdown, and when I asked head coach Stu Woodhouse after the game whether the lopsided penalty count was justified, he wasn’t too enthused about what he’d seen.

“I’ve got a real issue there,” he said. “I was disappointed that they [the officials] viewed our game last week and came into this game with ideas. There were just comments made before kick-off that they already had no’s six and seven measured as they were giving away penalties last week, and I’m disappointed by that. To me, that tells me that it becomes a pre-meditated idea, and that’s something I’ll address through the week with the referees.”

Despite their perceived injustice, Wests still managed to regain control of the match before half-time, when winger Lester Salanoa intercepted a suicidal pass inside the Gordon twenty-two. After the try had been wonderfully celebrated with an impromptu ‘breakdance’ exhibition, the conversion was a formality and we had a three-point ball game at oranges with Wests up 15-12.

The Pirates came out with a real zip and sense of purpose in their play for the second half. Despite their reputation as a counter-attacking, ball-running side, there’s plenty to like in the Pirates engine room. The backrow of Pelea Afu, James King and Mark Porpiglia were repeatedly making good, hard yards, with Afu in particular a standout with his barraging runs.

With the bit between their teeth and the line in sight, referee Neill awarded a penalty but – playing the advantage – Wests spun the ball wide where a terrific take and offload by Reily put the overlapping Damien Fakafanoa through for try number three, duly converted by his captain.

Haylett-Petty, Dane tackled 010510D-7276.JPG

Dane Haylett-Petty makes inroads for Gordon – Photo: SPA Images

As confidence coursed through their veins once more, the Pirates almost grabbed another when a swift attack from a line-out put Fakafanua through a gap for his second. But it was rightly disallowed for obstruction, with at least one Pirate crossing in front of a would-be tackler.

At this point Gordon were looking a little ragged. But from out of nowhere, they went and scored. The previously anonymous Corey Brown put a neat grubber in behind, forcing the retreating defence to turn. It should have been dealt with, but the support runners sniffed an opportunity and somehow in the ensuing melee, inside centre Josh Whittaker got the vital touch. Harvey did the honours and it was game on again.

Perhaps symptomatic of their lack of confidence, Gordon practically gave three points to their opponents from the kick-off to trail 25-19 with 25 minutes left on the clock. But it would be Wests’ last points of the day, as the tide suddenly turned and the Highlanders came home with a wet sail.

Firstly flyhalf Josh Kiel – who really stepped up in this half with his execution – found a rampaging Ed Gower, who smashed through the defensive line and popped up for Dane Haylett-Petty. The elusive Western Force winger duly jinked through some average tackling to find the line and give Harvey an easy task.

Then came the killer blow. Harvey had just managed a rare penalty miss before – after some ill advised overplaying inside their own twenty-two from the Pirates – possession was intercepted and he found himself on the end of the line to stroll over. He then took his personal tally to a whopping 23pts with the conversion to leave a final score of 33-25 to the visitors, provoking scenes of joy from his team mates, and dejection from their hosts as their drought continues.

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GORDON 33 (Josh Whittaker, Dane Haylett Petty, Dave Harvey tries; Dave Harvey 4 pens, 3 cons) defeated WEST HARBOUR 25 (Tito Mua, Lester Salanoa, Damien Fakafanua tries; Nick Reily 2 cons, 2 pens) at Concord Oval – HT: 12-15

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POST-MATCH THOUGHTS:

Gordon joint-head coach Dave Dinning:

“We knew both sides were desperate, and I guess part of Wests’ desperation was the amount of charge-downs they got off us early in the first half, which just goes to show how committed they were to the cause. We didn’t want to play an expansive game against these blokes. I was quoted as saying earlier in the week that you need to score twenty-five points or more to beat Wests, and they scored twenty-five but we scored thirty-three! We panicked a bit in that first half but in the second half, we played long in relation to our kicking. We kept them down the left and right channels and virtually suffocated them of good ball and ended up putting pressure on and getting points, which was great.

“Our attack’s not free-flowing at the moment. It’s not where we’d like it to be so we’re backing our defence, which is doing really well. But I guess if we are going to attack, we want to do it from good field position where if we do turn the ball over – because that’s been a problem in the first month of the competition – then at least we’re turning it over at the right end of the field. It’s still an area we need to work on. We turned over ten balls in the first half but it wasn’t as many in the second and ultimately, we scored points.

“I keep saying he’s [Dave Harvey] got the best boot in the comp, we just need to utilise it a bit better. He has chopped a bit between ten and fifteen, but the style of game we wanted to play today was to give him a bit more freedom to find the grass and to find channels. We didn’t want him kicking to guys on the full because Wests counter-attack.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve not taken shots at goal when we should have. So the first half was very much ‘if we get into the positions to score points or kick for goal, let’s take them’, and even though we were down at half-time we still had twelve points on the board through converting field position into points. We ended up winning by eight points and those twelve from penalty goals could have been the difference.

“The boys have done really well the last couple of seasons but I guess the thing we need to improve on is our attitude because it doesn’t just happen again. We’ve worked really hard in the last couple of years and we’re starting to work hard again so, from a confidence level, this will do wonders for us today. When you have two draws and you probably deserve to win both of them, it kind of takes its toll a bit, so it was good to get that monkey off the back. We’ve got Eastwood next week at home, so hopefully the supporters will look in the paper and see that we won and turn up next week.”

West Harbour head coach Stu Woodhouse:

This week it’s a loss but I’m quite pleased with the attitude today, which was a lot better and that’s what we’ve been searching for. We’ve got a young team and they’ve got to learn from their mistakes, but overall I was pretty happy with the commitment at the breakdown and that’s the difference. Over the last three weeks we’ve actually played a lot worse. This week we played very well and were unlucky to lose I felt. Credit to Gordon, they hung in there. But I think we constructed a lot more play and dominated possession and team play. So I’m relatively happy but I’m also disappointed – not for myself – but for the players because I know the effort they put in.

“Today – like with Eastwood last week and Norths in the first round – we led at half-time and we’ve dominated certain parts of the game, but its just the continuity we struggle with at times. We get a bit of go-forward ball and some decision making and it’s not kids stuff the mistakes they’re making, it’s just a bit of carelessness at the breakdown or taking one more phase to go wide. The decision to run the ball, yes, you can run it, but flinging it wide doesn’t guarantee you scoring points, you’ve got to construct something. Defences know that when you’re behind by one point with one minute to go, you’re going to throw it, so I’m disappointed that they didn’t actually realise they had to construct something. It might have been better just to hit up the midfield, run a couple of plays and get some mis-matches. But instead we’re just trying to flick everything off, and that’s been indicative of what we’ve done in these last few games.

“When the chips are down it seems the luck never goes your way. But I think also we’ve got to learn not to contest every breakdown. We want to be physical and enthusiastic, but sometimes they’ve got to decision-make and when the ball is dead there’s no point in going in there. I will look through the tape and I’ll make comments with those players, but the new rule where you don’t have to roll away, I can see in the Super 14 that a lot of them don’t actually contest any breakdowns, but I think that’s because the contact of the teams or the sealing off is so good at that level. At this level there’s still pretty poor carries, and technically I don’t think people are as good at the breakdown as they are at the next level so you can afford to actually have a crack at it. We just need to pick and choose the right time and that’s something we’ll keep working on.

Ayoub, Jai dejected 010510D-7414.JPG

The faces tell the story as the Pirates contemplate a fourth defeat – Photo: SPA Images

I know people will say we’re four and zero but look, it is a good team and structurally we’re fine. We were in this situation last year, we were four-nil down but by the end of round one we were in second position, so we’ll keep grafting away. We’ve worked very hard on recruiting guys into this team and any time you make a large recruitment, it takes a bit of time. There’s a lot of new partnerships in the group and at least today I saw issues where, if it does all click, it’ll be very good. We don’t necessarily have the speedsters out wide but we have got good, hard, grafting players and at least they saw a bit better ball today. We were good in our trials, but maybe that was a bit of a false dawn that we were looking good and maybe we did have issues. But I think you can never gauge trials, we put a lot of effort into our trials whereas other teams might just say it is what it is – a trial.

“The culture of our club is in good shape. We won 2nd’s, 3rd’s and 4th’s today, our colts have been doing well, discipline is good at training, the punctuality and the effort – it will tick over and it’ll happen. The young guys that we’ve recruited like Steve Mafi – he’s with our club for two years – Jeremy Su’a and David Fungalei, they’re boys that we wanted to get that are younger than twenty-three, so they’re there for the longevity of this club. Obviously, my neck is always on the chopping block and I’m impatient. But at the same time I’ve got to be realistic, some of these boys come to us with a few faults in their game and it’s my job to look at their faults and improve them but at the same time I don’t want to suppress what they do well, which is the ability to attack and all the little things in their game that they do very well. The last few weeks have highlighted errors but I think in other coaches minds they still view West Harbour as being dangerous from looking at our tapes, so we need to understand that and actually front up.”

Gordon fullback Dave Harvey:

“That’s a massive win for us, we spoke during the week about sticking to our game plan and sticking to our instructions which I think is why we were so successful last year. We went away from that, especially in Round One, in Round Two in attack as well and also Round Three so we really wanted a structure, particularly against a side like West Harbour who can be dangerous – I think the gameplan was the key for us today.

“We speak about it every week, trying to use my boot to gain advantage and try and get us on the front foot but it does get a bit – not overused – but my leg does get sore! We try to build on that, some people say it’s boring and we get a bit of banter from the crowd saying ‘Is that all you can do is kick?’ but at the end of the day if it gets us the results, we’re more than happy to win ugly.

“Team spirit is huge, if I got offered a bigger deal at another club somewhere else I’d turn it down just because of the camaraderie we have at Gordon, not just with 1st Grade but between ones, two’s, three’s and four’s – right throughout the whole club and we get on really well. Lachie Fear’s left and he was a big part of us last year with his ideas but Dave Dinning’s just as smart and so’s Rosco [Ross Hopkins] and they’ve pretty much just taken over a successful team and win, lose or draw, we stick together which is good.

“We spoke at half-time that we lacked aggression and determination in the first forty minutes, and it was a bit of a wake-up call when they scored that try in the corner early on in the second half. We sat under the posts and said that we’ve come back from bigger deficits before and that we can throw the ball around quite well, and I think we did that in the second half. A good bit of attacking flair came back, certainly for a percentage of that second half, and we came away with the win, which is obviously what we came here for.

“Team spirit is huge. We actually spoke about it before in the grandstand that if I got offered a bigger deal at another club somewhere else that I’d turn it down just because of the camaraderie we have at Gordon. Not just with first grade but between one’s, two’s, three’s and four’s – right throughout the whole club – and we get on really well. Lachie Fear’s left and he was a big part of us last year with his ideas. But Dave Dinning’s just as smart and so’s Rosco [Ross Hopkins], and they’ve pretty much just taken over a successful team and the team spirit – win, lose or draw – we stick together, which is good.

“We’re undefeated in three but we need to work hard. I think we’ve got Eastwood at home next weekend and we’ve got another home game after that and we haven’t won at home yet. Chatswood’s usually our fortress, we only lose maximum one or two a year there, so we really need to step it up next week and we’re really looking to put one on Eastwood and come away with the win and go four games undefeated.”

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WEST HARBOUR: 1. Campese Ma’afu; 2. Will Hannam; 3. Vaughan Lomax; 4. David Fungalei; 5. Steve Mafi;  6. James King; 7. Mark Porpiglia; 8. Pelea Afu; 9. Jeremy Su’a; 10. Jai Ayoub; 11. Tito Mua; 12. Henry Seavula; 13. Rory Sidey; 14. Damien Fakafanua; 15. Nick Reily
GORDON: 1. Travis Church; 2. Nathan Nicol; 3. Marty Plokstys; 4. Ed Gower; 5. Kingsley Seale; 6. Bryan Perry; 7. Craig Thomas [c]; 8. Billy Ratu; 9. Tom Sully; 10. Josh Keil; 11. Corey Brown; 12. Josh Whittaker; 13. Dane Haylett-Petty; 14. Terry Preston; 15. Dave Harvey

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Original version first published by clubrugby.com.au on May 4th, 2010

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