Woodies outlast Manly to maintain unbeaten start

Photo: SPA Images

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Eastwood have continued their impressive start to the season, defeating Manly 27-17 at the Village Green to stand alone at the top of the ladder, and become the only unbeaten side after the opening four rounds. In testing conditions and on a rapidly deteriorating pitch, they held their nerve to outlast the Marlins in a combative and absorbing contest, clinching victory with two tries in the last 10 minutes.

Down 17-13 they struck late through their forwards, with replacement prop Barry Fa’amausili and a second of the match to lock Josh Dunning leaving Manly too far behind and with no time left to change it. Despite the fact that the season is still young, it was a triumph to be heralded, and Eastwood captain Hugh Perrett was under no illusion as to it’s importance.

“Defeating Manly at Manly – it’s a huge win, especially in the wet, so I’m ecstatic to be honest,” he beamed. “I’m probably happier to get the four points, but really delighted that we avoided giving Manly a losing bonus point as well, so that was a real positive.”

The game was in the balance until those closing stages as both sides fronted up physically. And although the driving rain and quagmire-like centre field had cruelled any chance of a free-flowing spectacle, there was more than enough blood and thunder on display to keep the traditionalists happy.

Manly had started the stronger, using their powerful scrum and giant pack to make inroads into Eastwood territory. And despite the concession of two penalties dispatched by Pierre Hola, it was the Marlins who led after the opening quarter, captain Chris Cottee pilfering an Eastwood feed five metres from their own line to stretch for the line with Ben Seymour converting.

However, the visitor’s soon crossed themselves with Josh Dunning breaking off a ruck in the 21st minute to find the line, after a quick tap from scrumhalf Nic White. The score was compounded by an increased resistance from the Woodies, who started to return serve at scrum time, take advantage of an increasingly erratic Manly lineout, and in Ben Batger, had the game’s most astute kicker.

Luke Jones_Manly v Eastwood_2011_SPA

Manly flanker Luke Jones runs into some stiff resistance – Photo: SPA Images

Trying to keep play away from the unplayable centre, he consistently found open ground behind enemy lines, pegging Manly back and buying precious time for his overworked forwards. By contrast, the Marlins back three all too often found a waiting blue and white shirt, and it wasn’t a fact lost on head coach Tim Lane.

“We’ve got a team of 20-year-old’s and they’re learning every week, and Eastwood are a good, solid team,” he observed. “They probably out-kicked us a little bit in these conditions. We kicked ok but it seemed to go to hand most times, whereas they found a bit of space. We’ve just got to keep on going and rectify the mistakes we make and get better in certain areas.”

Counterpart John Manenti was also pleased with the way his Eastwood side adapted to the situation. Although he conceded that they didn’t have it all their own way, he did feel that doing the right things when it mattered was the difference.

“I think we probably handled the key moments better, but I actually thought they played the conditions better than us for a fair portion of the game. Benny Batger – who played with an injury – kicked tactically very well. It’s not something we design our game around, but on days like today you have to play it. Conversely, I know from watching Manly’s last couple of games that they do play with a lot of kick-chase and a territorial sort of game, so I was pleased. I don’t know if we won that battle, but we won the important minutes of that battle.”

The Woodies led 13-7 at half-time but the Marlins did pass up some opportunities before the break, poor handling costing them with the line in sight on more than one occasion. However, they didn’t take long to redress the balance after the resumption of hostilities, the influential Robbie Coleman breaking from halfway and angling to the corner, before feeding Seymour on his inside for a race to the line.

When BJ Hartmann kicked a penalty to put them four points ahead in the 50th minute, it seemed like the home crowd were about to witness another Manly surge to victory – particularly given their renowned fitness and ability to go the distance. But they had factored without Eastwood’s equal ability for longevity, and their own team’s inability to execute even the most pragmatic of lineouts.

Eastwood 1st Grade celebrates mud rain 230411D-4872.JPG

Jubilant Woodies celebrate Josh Dunning’s second try – Photo: SPA Images

Time and again they wasted field position through an overthrow, a crooked throw, or a turnover, and given the players at their disposal in the tall timber stakes, it’s an area of their game that has Lane puzzled.

“We’ve got to make sure we win our lineout ball,” he bemoaned. “That was probably a big factor and we lost way too many, and we kicked to score basically as our maul was quite strong and I thought we dominated them there. Our scrum was solid, but it was the lineout where we let ourselves down and even the ones we won, the boys panicked a little bit and that’s what happens with young kids.”

Conversely, it was a facet of the game that Manenti hadn’t overtly focused on, but was more than happy to profit from.

“I felt that we got some pressure on their lineout at different points of the game and turned some ball over, and possibly forced them to throw to places they didn’t want to throw to,” he reflected. “Given the size of their lineout, I was a little bit surprised by that. We were planning on unsettling them and stopping their momentum, but when we started winning the ball we just kept going with that ploy.”

In the end, it was Eastwood’s ability to match Manly’s physicality and set-piece, the cornerstones of their game, that unsettled the hosts, and an increasingly disjointed Marlins were finally put to the sword by those two late tries. It is only Round Four but as skipper Perrett suggested, it’s a nice mental edge to take into the latter stages of a season where both sides are likely to feature in finals footy.

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EASTWOOD 27 (Josh Dunning 2, Barry Fa’amuasili tries; Pierre Hola 3 cons, 2 pens) defeated MANLY 17 (Chris Cottee, Ben Seymour tries; Ben Seymour 2 cons, BJ Hartmann pen) at Manly Oval HT 13-7

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Eastwood head coach John Manenti:

We were up at half-time but not by many, and I felt the game was based on territory and who had territory. Once we scored, it was up to us to try and keep them down there and make them have to score a 70-80 metre try, and in those conditions that’s very hard to do – even with players like Robbie Coleman and Tyrone Smith. I also thought there were a couple of fifty/fifty decisions which might have helped us at some point, and possibly we got the rub of the green on a couple. So at the end of the day, it probably balanced out. In fairness to the referee, I don’t think it’s an easy job when they’re covered in mud and there’s two teams going pretty hard at each other.

“Obviously, with their bigger pack they just wanted to rumble away and play territory, which they did well, and it felt like most of the game was played in our part of the field. The scrum was obviously under a bit of pressure, and our forwards are certainly an underweight pack compared to most going around, so to hang in there and keep defending was very pleasing. I don’t know the percentage stats, but it felt like we tackled a lot of the time and played a lot of the game without the ball. But on days like today, it’s not too bad to play without the footy. You play without it and let the other team make the mistakes, and I think it worked out ok for us you know.

“Last week, we didn’t play so well against Randwick and got away with it, whereas today, I actually think Manly are a quality outfit and we played better than we did last week in many aspects. Obviously, that pitch is a factor in your game plan, and we have to learn to play many different ways. We don’t love kicking the ball to be honest. Pierre’s a bit of an instinctive player, and he kicked the ball about three times in their 22 when it was probably not the day to do that. But if it comes off, we think he’s a genius. I thought he kicked well, and his conversions and kicks were telling in the end. It was one of those days where you get pretty limited chances and you have to make the most of them. 

“You move your goals all the time. We were looking for 11 points out of the first three games and we’ve ended up on 14. So we’ve now set some goals for the next three games, and that win today gives us a real shot at achieving that goal. Small mouthfuls are all we can really take at the moment, but I definitely think that getting points on the board and wins on the board now is much easier than trying to bank on getting some in the home run. Manly are a good side and clearly going to be a team to feature in the back half of the season, as are the three teams we’ve played previously to today. We’ve got through the first four weeks against, I daresay, the four top clubs from last year. So I suppose our big focus now is not to slip attitudinally or drop our intensity for Warringah and Parramatta over the next fortnight.”

Manly head coach Tim Lane:

“I thought our scrum dominated the majority of the time but they put a couple of good hits on us. Jonno Owen’s ankle probably wasn’t as strong as we thought it was, and he struggled just after half-time so maybe that had some effect. It collapsed four times, we got penalised once and the other three, nothing happened. So they’re interesting decisions.

“Against Parra last week we played pretty average. We struggled and made a lot of basic errors, and the younger blokes mentally weren’t there. Today I thought they were good, they were up for it and got stuck in. They’re going to be a good team, they’re going to be competitive, and if you go in with an ordinary attitude, then they’re going to put you under a bit of pressure.

“You’re not going to win it in the first three or four games, we’ve got a lot of improving to do and I don’t think we’ve played to our potential in any of the games yet, and that’s a good thing from my point of view. We never said we were going to win every game, and as long as we learn from the ones we don’t and get a good rub of the green we’ll be alright. We’ve just got to keep on going and rectify the mistakes we make and get better in certain areas. There’s a lot more good stuff to come.”

Perrett, Hugh portrait mud rain 230411D-4686.JPG

“Today was a big step up in our own performance”    Hugh Perrett – Photo: SPA Images

Eastwood captain Hugh Perrett:

“Conditions I felt maybe suited Manly to be honest, so we knew what we’d be in for. A battle up front, a tight game, pick and go’s, and kicking long. So for us, it was all about desperation and second efforts. Our set-piece last week was really poor, so we’ve done a lot of work this week and come up trumps. Chris Hill’s come back in and that’s made a huge difference for us.

“You want to avoid the middle but make sure you try to get Manly to play in the middle. How you do that is tactically, and our back three worked well and their kicking game was pretty accurate, so that helped. We anticipated it to go 80 minutes, so we knew that if we just kept grinding away, plugging away, taking our opportunities when they’re there, and try and keep our heads up and stay positive for the whole game, that we might come away with a result and it turned out that way, which was pleasing.

“Today was a big step up in our own performance. The last two weeks – even though we won – I felt our performance as a stand alone was pretty poor and not up to our standards. We got five points out of them, but today was a big step up against Manly. The season’s young but it’s looking up for us to be honest, it’s looking good.

“We were Minor Premiers last year but hiccuped in the semis, and we really need to finish one or two to give us the week off. Some would argue that it doesn’t give you a benefit, but that’s what we’re pushing for so we can prepare best for the semi-finals. But it’s 22 rounds and we’re only up to Round 4, so injuries and lots of other things can go against you yet. 

“Everyone has the season goal to finish one or two. Last year we finished first, which was great, and a great surprise for ourselves even. But to get the Shield in the end, it’s all about how you perform in September/October, so I don’t want to get too carried away. It’s a journey and it’s all how you finish, so hopefully, come September, we’re playing our best footy rather than now.”

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Manly: 1. Eddie Aholelei; 2. Elvis Taione; 3. Jonno Owen; 4. Greg Peterson; 5. Cadeyrn Neville; 6. Luke Jones; 7. Kotoni Ale; 8. Ed Gower; 9. Chris Cottee (c); 10. Ben Seymour; 11. JP Du Plessis; 12. Brian Sefanaia; 13. Jacob Woodhouse; 14. Lui Siale; 15. BJ Hartmann

Eastwood: 1. Simon Norris; 2. Chris Hill; 3. Marty Plokstys; 4. Josh Dunning; 5. Tom Alexander; 6. Gareth Palamo; 7. Chris Alcock; 8. Hugh Perrett (c); 9. Nic White; 10. Pierre Hola; 11. Mark Frost; 12. Sione Piukala; 13. Tim Bennetts; 14. John Grant; 15. Ben Batger

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on April 27th, 2011

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