Out of sorts Woodies stretched by improving Parra

Photo: SPA Images

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Eastwood have made it six wins from six in this season’s Shute Shield, but they were pushed all the way by a rapidly improving Parramatta at Granville Park, eventually running out 38-26 winners. After going three tries-to-one ahead early on, the Woodies were guilty of complacency, taking their foot of the pedal and being made to pay when the Two Blues turned up the heat and got back to within five points just before the hour.

With a dominant scrum forcing penalties, and extensive pressure resulting in the visitor’s fullback Ben Batger spending time in the sin bin either side of half-time, belief grew in the home ranks for a famous win. But their chances of victory were cruelled by the loss of both starting props to injury in the second half, and Eastwood seized the initiative to claim two more tries and take the game away from their hosts. Head coach John Manenti admitted it was a hard day at the office for his side.

“It was tough today,” he said. “We scored after a minute or so, and I sometimes think that’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you because it’s a bit like ‘Here we go’, and we blew opportunities and started playing touch footy style. It was 21-7 for quite a while there, we were playing like millionaires and they were battling away at our scraps. But then they scored and made a game of it. I’m disappointed with how we played, but full credit to the enthusiasm that Parramatta showed.”

They remain unbeaten, but the performance on the day fell far short of the expectation levels placed upon them by Manenti and his coaching team. Despite winning last year’s Minor Premiership the Woodies aren’t used to being front-runners, and Manenti is sure that played a part in Saturday’s below par effort.

“Last year, it must have been with about four or five rounds to go that we hit the lead and held onto it for the last few games of the season to win the Minor Premiership. But now we’re on top and everyone’s targeting you. We’ve got to play with that pressure, we’ve got to learn to play as a top team that turns up every week under the pressure of not being an underdog anymore.”

The game started with a bang with four tries in the opening quarter, two of them inside the first three minutes. Poor kicking from Parra created attacking opportunities that were eventually finished off by Eastwood skipper Hugh Perrett (twice), and centre Sione Piukala, with a lone reply from Two Blues captain Andrew Cox leaving the visitors with a 14pt lead.

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John Grant had to be at his explosive best to help the Woodies to victory – Photo: SPA Images

It was then that they began to stray from the structures that had already served them well, and began to throw it around with abandon. Yet Parra held firm and refused to buckle, and sensing that their opponent seemed to think the result was already a foregone conclusion, they hit back hard, through their combative forwards and exciting backline.

They were back within seven points when Damien Fakafanua was on the end of a slick set-play from a scrum to glide over, and when multiple phases on the five-metre line on the brink of half-time saw Eastwood penalised and Batger get a cooling off period, the home side were firmly on the front-foot. However, they didn’t punish the numerical disadvantage, and while head coach Glen Christini felt it was a significant missed opportunity, he also thought it wasn’t entirely of their own volition.

“We were genuinely on top out there for a while,” he reflected. “I thought we should have got better mileage out of that series of scrums on the line right on half-time. They collapsed three or four and the touchie talked to the ref about it after the fact, which was no use to us. It would have been nice for us to pick up one there and go into half-time 21-all or 21-19, that would have made a big difference.”

Despite failing to turn that pressure into points, the Two Blues clearly believed they were in with a shout, and came out after the break determined to carry on where they left off. And after Pierre Hola had added three points from a penalty for Eastwood, Parra grabbed try number three.

Maile Latukefu was having a field day in a deep lying no.8 role, his pace and strength a constant thorn in Eastwood’s side. And it was another barnstorming surge from the Junior Waratah that put Ryan Aniseko over in the corner to make it a five point ball game.

Latukefu, Maile runs 300711D-1385.JPG

Industrious no.8 Maile Latukefu was a standout for the Two Blues – Photo: SPA Images

Their scrum was still causing havoc – even wheeling the Woodies pack on one occasion. However, their dominance was to be cut short with props Sione Taula and Lamarn Ma’a both leaving the field through injury, and as far as Christini is concerned, the chances of victory went with them.

“We haven’t been getting too many turnovers from the scrum, so it was a big step up in that area. But to then lose both our props within the space of 10 minutes of each other, we went from a dominant scrum to just holding on, and those were the key moments.”

Buoyed by the return of first-phase ball with which to work from, Eastwood’s backline sniffed an opportunity to strike, and they don’t need much invitation. John Grant and Ben Batger – keen to make amends after his sideline sabbatical – ran the ball back at Parra with gusto, giving them a taste of their own medicine. And the reward for the injection of purpose they brought to their team’s play was a try apiece, and the rubber-stamping of victory.

There was still time for a late consolation from Dan Yakopo, earning the Two Blues a well deserved four-try bonus point. But they will be left wondering just what might have been had those props stayed on the field.

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EASTWOOD 38 (Hugh Perrett 2, Sione Piukala, John Grant, Ben Batger tries; Pierre Hola 5 cons, pen) defeated PARRAMATTA 26 (Andrew Cox, Damien Fakafanua, Ryan Aniseko, Dan Yakopo tries; Ioane Sefo 3 cons) at Merrylands RSL Rugby Park HT 21-14

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Eastwood head coach John Manenti:

They played well and I complemented the coach. It’s not often we get out-enthused as a group but clearly today we were and thankfully, we only have to come out here once a year. We still walk away with five points and regardless of what happened, our position in terms of where we’re sitting hasn’t changed. So it’s not the end of the world, and sometimes you can learn a lot more from a game like this than you can from coming out here and towelling them up.

“If we’d scored at 21-7 in the first half, I think possibly then we could have put some numbers on the board. We lost Ben Batger for 10 minutes and you’re playing a man down, but I’m disappointed with how we played. Some of that’s down to attitude because at different times, we’d go ok. You can’t just turn on for a scrum and in general, we missed more tackles than I care to remember so it’s got to be attitudinal, you can’t play one week and not the next and that’s why I’m happy to come here, get the points and go away.

“Full credit to the enthusiasm that Parramatta played with. They tried to bash us with pick and go and we shut them down, they started to go wide and got a few breaks. They’re a far improved side, and hopefully they get a lot out of today in the sense that they know they can challenge any team in the competition. Not that we’re superstars by any means, but we’re travelling ok and if they can give us a game, I’d like to think they can knock off plenty of other teams for us along the way.

“It’s certainly not back to the drawing board. We’ll put some steps in place and probably, the last couple of weeks have made them realise that every team’s coming after them and there’s not going to be a team now that doesn’t light up against us. People don’t fear us and they shouldn’t fear us in that sense, but they want to knock you off. People are coming after you and you just have to keep delivering. That’s why the champion teams in any sport or code are champions every week, because they can do it every week without pressure and they deliver. Having said that, I’d prefer to be sitting where we are than some other teams.”

Parramatta head coach Glen Christini:

“From watching their tape from last week, we knew that they do the little things really well. So the plan was to hold our defensive structure and see if we can take them outside their comfort zone, and I think we achieved that pretty well. The first couple of tries we conceded were disappointing because the game plan was to not kick the ball to their back three, and pretty well every try they got in the first half came from us kicking down the middle of the field. We knew during half-time that if we got rid of that, things would come good for us. 

“They’ve been going pretty well at scrum time against other teams, so we’re happy with that. The focus was on ourselves initially, but we noticed a couple of things in their scrum that we thought we could get into and we certainly executed that, so that was a pleasing aspect. But unfortunately we had those few injuries, and we haven’t quite got the depth there yet to cover.

“Despite the injuries, I think we let it get away from ourselves. It’s just about executing for 80 minutes. There was a really good 30-40 minutes spell there in the middle of the game where we executed really well and we looked like the better side. But you’ve got to play 80 minutes, especially against top sides like Eastwood. We had the same feeling after Uni, we let ourselves down against Randwick, we even had that feeling to a degree after Manly. Warringah we got and again last week, we certainly got that feeling against Gordon.

“We’ve come this far, now we need to take another little step forward. We’ve improved and that was always going to be the case, but we’ve really got to start getting across the line. That’s the next lesson for us to learn. We’re getting a lot of pats on the back from club people and supporters and the general rugby public. But we know within ourselves that we’ve still got a lot more in us, so we’re certainly not the finished product yet.”

Eastwood winger John Grant:

“I think we made a lot of mistakes and we played pretty poorly as a team. We fell off a lot of tackles and Parramatta played well and out-enthused us really. They gave it to us from the start and we were lucky to get away with the win. We usually find it tough coming to Granville and we struggled here last year as well. It’s a bit of a mental thing, we always seem to have a poor game and they like to give it to us.

“We had a pretty good start and then I don’t know what happened, we tried to run the ball a bit too much and it was all a bit rushed. They turned over a lot of our ball and we just didn’t have enough people going into the rucks, the halfback was stealing the ball every time. We were a bit worried at that stage, and I think Benny Batger had just come back onto the field and he said ‘It’s gonna have to be you or me that’s going to have to do something!’, and we just started to run it back at them and do exactly what they’d done to us. Luckily, it came off.”

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Parramatta: 1. Sione Taula; 2. Trent Hoscher; 3. Lamarn Ma’a; 4. Ryan Aniseko; 5. James Riddell; 6. Andrew Cox (c); 7. Rodney Ma’a; 8. Maile Latukefu; 9. Lua Vailoaloa; 10. Ioane Sefo; 11. Dan Yakopo; 12. Toese Lealamanua; 13. Damien Fakafanua; 14. Iese Leota; 15. Tyler Stevens

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

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on May 15th, 2011

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