Five-try Beasts see off Penrith to stay in the hunt

Photo: SPA Images

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Eastern Suburbs have cemented their top three position on the Shute Shield ladder by overcoming a resolute Penrith side 31-20 at Nepean Rugby Park. Trailing 10-7 at the break and 13-12 just before the hour, the Beasts had the extra class of Brendan McKibbin and Matt To’omua to thank in the last quarter as they seized the initiative to wrest control of the game from their hosts.

19pts in the last 20 minutes was too much for the Emus to contain, as another hugely impressive performance against one of the competition’s bigger guns unfortunately fell away in the second half. To’omua’s kicking game put them on the backfoot, and McKibbin’s will to win and sheer enthusiasm around the park lifted his team mates to another level.

Having scared the living daylights out of table-toppers Eastwood two weeks ago, Penrith came into the match knowing that they had a game plan to unsettle any team. And they set about carrying on where they left off at TG Millner, hurling their giant frames at the Easts line and rumbling forward with fine handling and eager ball runners.

Although tied at 7-7 after the first quarter, the Emus held the upper hand. Captain Peter Niumata added another try to his impressive front-rowers tally, while Beasts’ centre Anton La Vin added to his burgeoning reputation with his sixth try of the season.

On a heavy, slippery pitch, the mighty Emu pack managed to keep their footing well enough to consistently pressure the Easts line, while also making them gun shy in attack. A succession of bell-ringing hits had their opposition runners paying more attention to the incoming man rather than the ball.

With half an hour gone and no further breakthrough to show for their dominant platform, Niumata pointed at the posts at the next opportunity, and Tawhiri Walsh’s successful penalty proved to be the difference at the break.

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Peter Niumata on the rampage for the Emus – Photo: SPA Images

With the wind in their faces after the turnaround, the visitors were staring down the barrel. And despite having done their homework, head coach Lachie Fear admitted that preparation and reality are two very different things.

“They are very aggressive and it’s just very, very hard to stop that drive from their big boys. We defended pretty well, particularly when we got on our line. But it was three or four punches and they’re over, and you just go – ‘Wow’! We’ve been able to stop that all year but you can’t, they’re just physically more dominant than most.”

One of the keys to the Beasties eventual win was their strike immediately after half-time. Barely a minute after the kick-off an attack earned them a penalty, and with Penrith still arguing the decision, some quick-thinking by McKibbin sent a long pass wide to hooker Sam Zlatevski, who ran into the corner with not an Emu in sight.

It didn’t end the game as a contest – the Emus actually retook the lead soon afterwards. But it was a visible body blow for the home side in both it’s timing and manner. Head coach Matt Briggs admitted it was a costly blow to bear.

“It was a kick in the guts. You come out from essentially a calm yet very poignant half-time chat as a group with very clear intentions, and all of a sudden you’re on the backfoot. Then you’ve got to calm down and go again and rebuild, and it sort of just took the wind out of our sails. I think we were a bit shocked.”

McKibbin’s missed conversion meant that a penalty 10 minutes later from Walsh pushed Penrith back in front at 13-12. But it was to be their last foray into enemy territory for a while, as Easts stepped up the ante and McKibbin and To’omua truly came to the party.

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Easts’ centre Anton La Vin bagged a double in another impressive performance – Photo: SPA Images

Just before the hour, the Waratahs scrumhalf ran directly at the line on a kamikaze mission, bouncing, spinning, and doggedly forcing himself past three huge hits before being caught with a high shot. But while everyone waited for him to call for the kicking tee, he tapped and went himself, barraging past two more behemoths before offloading NFL style over the remaining Penrith heads to the alert Ed Stubbs, who found the corner.

It was a classic example of last year’s Ken Catchpole Medal winner chancing his arm and coming up trumps, and he agreed that it was a statement of intent.

“Momentum’s a funny thing, and whether it comes from a good run or a big tackle, you certainly want to feed off it. I felt it was time to try and do something and took it upon myself to have a bit of a run. I got knocked about a bit and copped a few big hits, but it was good that the boys fed off it and rallied towards the end.”

With Penrith suddenly looking unsure of themselves, Easts went in for the kill. With the Emus reluctant to exit off the boot, they were forced into running the ball back from deep as To’omua’s place kicks constantly turned them around. Repeated rumbles forward from their own half took their toll, and aggressive defence from the Beasts enabled them to disrupt ball and stem any fluidity before it started.

Their fortunes took another setback when influential skipper Niumata went off injured in the 67th minute, and Easts duly struck again. Great work by Jordan Brown and Tala Gray sucked in the defence, and when McKibbin switched the point of attack to To’omua, La Vin had enough time and space to ignore the obvious overlap and grab his second.

When a rampaging Pauliasi Taumoepeau then crashed over after more good work from Brown in the 72nd minute, the nightmare second stanza for the Emus was complete, although a consolation on the bell from Winney Paulo left a fairer reflection of the overall game on the scoreboard.

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EASTERN SUBURBS 31 (Anton La Vin 2, Ed Stubbs, Sam Zlatevski, Pauliasi Taumoepeau tries; Brendan McKibbin 3 cons) defeated PENRITH 20 (Peter Niumata, Winney Paulo tries; Tawhiri Walsh 2 cons, 2 pens) at Nepean Rugby Park HT: 7-10

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Eastern Suburbs head coach Lachie Fear:

“That was a really great victory by our boys. Penrith had their tails up but we won the game through our defence bashing their big guys, and that was impressive. I don’t think Penrith will face that much this year ,and that’s the first time we’ve actually done that ourselves. We had to today to win, that’s for sure.

“Our ability to execute a plan was not great. I’m not sure if they’re not understanding that well enough, or if the message is getting through well enough. But it improved, and I guess the understanding of why also improved in the second half. I think we took a while to get through to the way we needed to play the game.

“We had their set-piece reasonably sussed in terms of lineouts. The influence of the forwards is off second and third phase, and we had a plan to try and limit those opportunities. But we didn’t do that enough in the first half, and that brought Niumata and Vili Napa’a – who I coached at Gordon and am a massive fan of – into the game a bit more, and that got their tails up.

“They’ve definitely got some space behind the line that we wanted to attack all game, and we also wanted to get it past the 13 channel, which we struggled to do in the first half. We started getting it there a bit more in the second, and we started attacking with potency. There was no point bashing our heads against a brick wall, which is what it is if we try and bash it up in the centres and come round the corner with our forwards – they just go and bash us as well.

“I don’t think there’ll be many other teams that will come out here and win to be honest. If that’s the team that they pump out and they play like that then the rest of the competition that have to play them here are in for a massive battle. That’s an impressive Penrith team and I’ll be surprised if, at the very least, they don’t win more than they lose at home at from now on.”

Penrith head coach Matt Briggs:

“I don’t think the week off did us any favours at all. I think we were building nicely and the game against Eastwood probably typified that, but after a week off we probably took a step or two back. They’re disappointed, they’re quite gutted to be up 10-7 and with the breeze behind us. But we were just poor tactically, missed too many tackles, and dropped our reaction at times. Only on a few occasions but when you’re playing in the Shute Shield you can’t drop it ever, because sides like Easts and the top tier sides will punish you. They did twice and that was a massive swing in the second half.

“We continue to build and we continue to build combinations, it’s just that execution at critical times, and you cannot afford to miss one-on-one tackles and it became a bit of a disease. It happened a little bit in the first half and became an epidemic in the second, and you just can’t afford to do that at this level. It’s what’s happening between your ears. They can all do it, and I’ve seen them do it week-in and week-out, and defensively we’ve actually improved dramatically. But it’s something I’ll have a look at. It’s just getting their heads right and back into that psyche that we had leading into Eastwood and the games before that. We’ll turn it around but I’m disappointed today with our performance.

“We didn’t play as smart, and we probably didn’t play to instruction. There wasn’t a huge wind but it was enough to capitalise on and we didn’t. We played too much in our own half and that wasn’t our plan coming into the second half, and it cost us. Full credit to Easts, they were very good after half-time. They played smarter, upped the tempo a little bit, and we didn’t react. They made us work very hard to put pressure on inside the 22, and I thought To’omua’s tactical kicking was excellent. He led them around the park and that’s what a good five-eighth will do for you. I know if we’d held the ball and played with the tempo we can play with, we’d have been a major threat. 

“I spoke to Lachie before and he’s surprised we haven’t won more games. They’re all saying the same thing and I’m sick of hearing it to be honest – but we’re getting better. This is a great bunch and they’re realists. They can see we’re improving, and we’re talking one and two percenters that change and all of a sudden, you’re winning games all the time instead of going close all the time. But the key for us is maintaining that morale and that momentum within the team. We’re a side that grinds and works tough together and we’ll be alright. We’ve got West Harbour next weekend and the boys are pretty disappointed and pretty angry about this game. So that’s the struck match that’ll fire them up a bit.”

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Brendan McKibbin was at his mercurial best for the Beasts – Photo: SPA Images

Eastern Suburbs scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin:

“You give Penrith a sniff at the start and their big boys just come in wave after wave after wave. We had a low tackle focus and we were going a little bit too high and trying to rip the ball out of their hands, and they just kept making easy metres. They grow a third leg on their own ground and they just keep on coming, and their backs are as big as their forwards. But we turned that around in the second half and concentrated on that low tackle focus and I think it paid off.

“We kicked a lot better in the second half and at good times and that put pressure on them. They had a focus on running it today. They didn’t kick much at all and when we kicked well, we got a good kick chase line and made our tackles, which really pressured them and got us over the line with a couple of late tries.

“I was really excited to get back and play for Easts again. It was a great crowd down here and they’re a good bunch of boys, and finally getting to play some footy – I was genuinely really excited about playing so I’m really happy. We covered a lot of metres, and not having much game time prior to this and trying to play 80 was always going to be difficult, and the heavy track didn’t help much. But it was good, I got through about 70 minutes and my legs started to cramp up. It was a good effort from the boys and it was good that we got away with five points with that bonus point try near the end, so that was great.

“I’m very close with Easts, I love this club, they were very good to me last year and they’re a great club. I’m honoured to be with them because they certainly helped me with my football last year and in getting that Ken Catchpole Medal last year, I fed off a lot of good play that our boys provided  so if we can do that at the back end of this year then hopefully, we can go one better at the end of the year. You don’t want to be hitting your straps at this time of year and we’ve certainly got a little bit of improvement to make and I’m excited about the changes that we can make.”

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Penrith: 1. Peter Niumata (c); 2. Elvis Levi; 3. Richard Aho; 4. Konelio Burgess; 5. Dale Shane; 6. Tavalea Takai; 7. Winnie Paulo; 8. Vili Napa’a; 9. Paula Katoa; 10. Tawhiri Walsh; 11. Tala Mapesone; 12. Stan Tuionuku; 13. Lachie Porteous; 14. Fokolulu Taumalolo; 15. Atelea Okati

Eastern Suburbs: 1. Manning Doughty; 2. Sam Zlatevski; 3. Rob McMickan; 4. Matt McGann; 5. Phil Mathers (c); 6. Pauliasi Taumoepeau; 7. Jordan Brown; 8. Tala Gray; 9. Brendan McKibbin; 10. Matt To’omua; 11. Kuki Ma’afu; 12. Anton La Vin; 13. Ed Stubbs; 14. Pat Smith; 15. Dion Taumata

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on June 21st, 2011

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