Saturday night lights as returning Rats legends dazzle Pirates

Photo: SPA Images

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Warringah welcomed back a trio of old favourites as they put a season of woe behind them to blow a lacklustre West Harbour away 44-17 at Rat Park on Saturday night, with a dazzling display of attacking rugby. Beau Robinson, Mark Gerrard, and another cameo appearance from coach Sam Harris, helped the Rats come out of the blocks on fire, and they never looked like being headed in a six tries-to-three victory.

They might have to change their nickname to the ‘Bats’ instead of the ‘Rats’ at this rate as – following on from their evening victory over league leaders Eastwood 10 days before – they once again came out to play at night and got the spoils. Wests could reasonably point to an injury-ravaged side as some excuse for the loss, but the truth is that they never really looked up for this game from the opening whistle.

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The tone was set by Gerrard’s first touch. Taking an upfield kick, he ran it back 20 metres with ease before putting up an imposing ‘don’t argue’ on his first tackler, bouncing him back five metres much to the delight of his team mates and the expectant crowd. The Rats were here to play.

With confidence growing they mixed up their attack, flyhalf Hamish Angus putting in some grubbers for his willing runners and forcing the Pirates to turn. A penalty from Harris broke the deadlock before a neat move in the 12th minute saw lock Tristan Stanley put Angus through the line, and he fed the supporting Gerrard for the posts.

Three minutes later they were through again. Scrum-half Scott Bradley sniped and found centre Ed Doyle, who drew the last man and released winger Dave Feltscheer to the line. Harris maintained his 100% start with the boot, and the home side had a 17-0 lead with just under quarter of the match played.

Warringah were clearly enjoying themselves. From being on the wrong end of this sort of treatment too often this season, they were loving the boot being on the other foot for once. Time and again the Pirates were being carved open, and on the odd occasion they actually gained some meaningful possession, their runners were too often isolated and turned over.

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Warringah winger Dave Feltscheer runs in for the first of his two tries – Photo: SPA Images

Feltscheer grabbed his second – and his side’s third – in the 32nd minute, and even at this early stage, the game appeared to be up for the visitors. The industrious Bradley was the creator in chief once more, ghosting through the line past some ineffectual tackles and feeding his speedy winger to the corner. Far too easy.

The Pirates needed a foothold in the game and they got it courtesy of their opponents. Reverting to bad habits and switching off from the restart, the Rats allowed a couple of soft drives at the line before a pop pass in the tackle allowed the visitors’ no.9 Shannin Proctor to dive over.

Henry Seavula almost added a second for Wests within minutes, after the powerful centre set off on a barnstorming run down the line. But terrific cover defence from Bradley – the player of the half – held him out as he waited, tackled, and rolled his man into touch in textbook style.

However, the move had sounded a warning shot that wasn’t heeded by the hosts, as the Pirates attacked the same flank just before the break and this time succeeded, Myles Hunkin the scorer.

Seavula failed to convert either try but somehow, despite their dominance, the Rats went to the sheds with just a 22-10 lead. From his on-field observations, player/coach Sam Harris was still pleased with the 1st half effort, but didn’t want to tempt fate in his half-time message.

“We’ve let a couple of leads go against Parra and Easts in the last few weeks, when the game plan has been to shut out the result and we haven’t done it – so I wasn’t even going to mention it!” he joked at full-time. “I just told them to think about their individual job, make sure they did it and if they did, we’ll win the game.”

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Henry Seavula looks for a way through the Rats defence – Photo: SPA Images

Their cause was helped somewhat by the awarding of a penalty within two minutes of the restart, Harris slotting over a 3pt settler to extend a lead which they importantly held for the next 10 minutes, thereby taking the sting out of any potential Pirates fightback.

With Beau Robinson’s presence at the breakdown helping to spur fellow back rowers Sam Ward and Mark Porpiglia onto greater efforts; Harris’ game smarts and communication linking forwards and backs; and Gerrard orchestrating attacks from the rear, the Rats were able to dictate the pace of the game, and it was only a matter of time before they struck again.

It was Robinson who made the initial charge, striding through on halfway and showing some serious gas in the process. Eventually hauled down with the line in sight, the ball was recycled at speed to the right flank, where Harris rolled back the years to put in a lovely step and find the chalk.

Two more tries in the next 10 minutes confirmed Warringah’s superiority as it started to get ugly for the Pirates. A lovely, looping pass from Angus found Gerrard, who dropped the shoulder and zipped away to the line for his second. But it was the hour mark that saw the try of the night.

A multitude of phases saw the Rats cutting loose with a confidence and freedom that comes from a 30pt lead. Pinpointing a weakness on the left flank, the attack was straightened to draw in tacklers before being switched back to the wing for Gerrard to put an ecstatic Dave Mason away to the corner. Great stuff.

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Rolling back the years: Player/coach Sam Harris puts it on the toe – Photo: SPA Images

Harris converted both scores for a 44-10 lead, before leaving the field to a deserved round of applause. His departure also signified the end of the scoring for the home side, but there was still time for Seavula to grab a consolation for Wests after some neat hands in the Rats’ red zone.

The game died off after that, both sides seemingly content with the status quo. But although the Rats couldn’t rack up the half century, there was much to admire in a performance that will have lifted many spirits around Pittwater.

Warringah 44 (Mark Gerrard 2, Dave Feltscheer 2, Sam Harris, Dave Mason tries; Sam Harris 4 cons, 2 pens) defeated West Harbour 17 (Shannin Proctor, Myles Hunkin, Henry Seavula tries; Henry Seavula con) at Pittwater Rugby Park. HT 22-10

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WARRINGAH: 1. Salesi Manu; 2. David Mason; 3. Dan Barnard; 4. Tristan Stanley; 5. Mitchell Longrigg; 6. Beau Robinson; 7. Mark Porpiglia; 8. Sam Ward; 9. Scott Bradley; 10. Hamish Angus; 11. Michael Dalton; 12. Sam Harris; 13. Ed Doyle; 14. Dave Feltscheer; 15. Mark Gerrard – Coaches: Harris/Longrigg

WEST HARBOUR: 1. Reg De Jager; 2. Myles Hunkin; 3. Vaughan Lomax; 4. Tom Hikila; 5. Steve Cummins; 6. Tom Games; 7. Daniel Corry; 8. Isaiah Pine; 9. Shannin Proctor; 10. Dave Paurini; 11. Macquire Tatola; 12. Tyler Spitz; 13. Henry Seavula; 14. Joe Tuvitu; 15. Tito Mua – Coach: Andrew Cox

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Final Thoughts…

Warringah flanker Beau Robinson:

It probably wasn’t my finest performance, I’m still getting used to the different sort of game they play in club rugby and adjusting and finding my feet. But it’s good to be back playing with the boys, and a few new faces as well.

“That’s the joy of rugby too, that you can come back and play with boys who are at Uni or working – which is where I was at last year – and you can be on that scene as well. I enjoy all levels. Obviously, playing Super Rugby or in a test match is an unreal experience, but it’s also good to get back here when you can. The boys put in a spirited performance, and with us older heads in there to help steer the ship a bit better, you can see what the potential is here.”

West Harbour head coach Andrew Cox:

“Warringah had three Super 15 standard players in key positions – seven, twelve and fifteen. Look at the difference in us when we had Rory Sidey in the side – and that’s just one player. I’ve coached Gerrard before and he’s great for Warringah, he’s great for the club and for those players – and so’s Beau. He was lifting those around him, and they had a look by standing on his shoulders.

“We don’t have a twelve, and I really think that this competition is being dictated by seven’s and twelve’s. We’re skinny in both those positions at the moment.”

Warringah player/head coach Sam Harris:

It was good conditions out there and it was good to have a bit of class back with ‘Gerrardo’ and Beau, and [Mark] Porpiglia had a really big game against his old club. I played with ‘Gerrardo’ a few years ago and he’s definitely taken it up a level with the tricks in the bag. He just does little things like an in-and-away, but it commits two players when it should have only committed one, and it frees us up around the park.

“There’s a feeling within this core group that we’re starting to figure it out. We’ve had a lot of blokes that haven’t played 1st grade footy, and they’ve started to realise what the level is that they’ve got to get to.”

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