Marlins comeback stuns Shoremen to earn semi

Photo: SPA Images

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Manly have made it third time lucky after edging into the Shute Shield semi finals with a come from behind 34-23 victory over Northern Suburbs. Having gone out in week one of the finals in both 2009 and 2010, there was to be no more heartbreak for the Marlins faithful this time around as they recovered from 14-0 down in the first quarter to book a date next Sunday with reigning Premiers Sydney University.

The Shoremen couldn’t have started much better with two converted tries from Zack Holmes and Ben Murray in the opening 12 minutes. But Manly showed their title credentials by staying patient, sticking to the game plan and eventually coming over the top of their rivals. Two tries from Ben Seymour had helped them edge in front by half time, and an eye catching effort from hooker Anthony Hegarty after the break took them to a lead that never really looked in danger of being clawed back.

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It was a swarm of red and black from the opening whistle as Norths set about their task with relish, and it took only two minutes for the breakthrough. Steve Evans put Zack Holmes through a gaping hole and the twinkle toed flyhalf shimmied around a bedazzled Seymour to find the line and convert his own good work for a 7-0 lead.

Five minutes later and Evans was at it again as the Shoremen – their dominance reflected in the 20-3 balance of power in their favour at rucks and mauls – went two passes off the ruck via the veteran scrumhalf and the hands of winger Bill Meakes to put Ben Murray through the line for number two. The prolific Holmes never looked like missing and the Marlins were staring down the barrel having failed to engage first gear.

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Scrumhalf Steve Evans rolled back the years for the Shoremen – Photo: SPA Images

However, head coach Tim Lane is the embodiment of calm and his relaxed, ‘no panic’ demeanour seems to be reflected in his team as they set about chasing down their opponents advantage. After sending out a reassuring message to captain Chris Cottee in the aftermath of Norths’ second, Lane saw an immediate return when his side conjured up a riposte almost straight from the restart.

BJ Hartmann found some space down the left flank before play was switched to centre field and Kotoni Ale tried to force his way through to the posts. Cottee mirrored the efforts of Evans’ previous play, shifting it wide to Willie Ripia, who found Seymour with a bevy of out of position forwards to skip through for the line. The Junior Waratah dusted himself off to add the extras and Manly were back in the game.

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Ben Seymour runs in a try for the Marlins – Photo: SPA Images

Holmes extended the lead with a penalty for offside in the 22nd minute and when Marlins prop Dane Maraki was sin binned for not rolling away on the half hour, it appeared as though the Shoremen had been offered a perfect opportunity to build on their advantage. However, it was Manly who reacted positively, taking advantage of some slack tackling and loss of concentration from Norths to strike instantly.

Kotoni Ale – who seems to improve with every viewing – turned over Norths ball on halfway and the pill went wide to Richard Hooper, who skirted the touchline, evaded a defender and fed infield to the supporting Seymour for his second. It was a try from nothing only usurped by another moment of hesitation in the red and black ranks on the stroke of half-time which truly turned the game.

Norths had only just passed up the opportunity for a shot from in front – pretty much a shoe-in three points given Holmes’ form with the boot – but the decision to pack down against a seven man scrum instead was probably the right call. However, when they were duly pinged for not releasing in front of the posts you wondered if it would come back to bite them.

It did and with immediate effect when Ripia took an offload from Michael Hooper and headed for the posts. He was reeled in superbly by Jordan Smiler but still managed to lay the ball back for the supporting Cottee to dab down with aplomb. Seymour was again successful and a potential 20-14 lead had turned into a 21-17 half-time deficit but hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

The second half was pretty much all about Manly as they controlled possession, territory and the tempo of the game. Seymour missed a chance to extend the lead from a penalty in the 48th minute, but the try of the match shortly after more than made up for it.

Barraging no.8 Tevita Metuisela showed some nifty footwork to run virtually unchallenged along Norths defensive line, before hitting a great running line from Hegarty. The hooker accelerated onto the pass, put in a vintage step any winger would have been proud of, and barrelled across the chalk. The kicking duties passed from Seymour to Ripia, who failed to add the extras. But when he succeeded with a penalty to take the score out to 29-17, the writing was on the wall.

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Richard Hooper tries to brush off the attentions of Samu Wara – Photo: SPA Images

Holmes struck back with his own three pointer on the hour but Norths were chasing their tails now. And with their structures starting to fade as individuals took it upon themselves to try and turn it around, they gifted the killer blow to their opponent.

The ever willing Samu Wara attempted a breakout from inside his own twenty-two, which almost succeeded. But when he spilt the ball in contact Manly pounced to seal the victory. Cottee recycled it along the line and Ripia used a great decoy run from Maraki to find lock Cadeyrn Neville, who crossed in the corner.

Ripia missed the conversion as well as a subsequent penalty, and the ten points lost through wayward kicks throughout the match would certainly have allowed for a more relaxed final few minutes had they been successful. As it was, exerted pressure from Norths could only procure another Holmes penalty in the closing stages, whilst a try from AJ Gilbert in the final minute was correctly called forward. They never gave up and they can be very proud of their achievements this season but on this occasion, the Marlins had that little bit of extra quality and composure required to extend their adventure for another week.

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MANLY 34 (Ben Seymour 2, Chris Cottee, Anthony Hegarty, Cadeyrn Neville tries; Ben Seymour 3 cons, Willie Ripia pen) defeated NORTHERN SUBURBS 23 (Zack Holmes, Ben Murray tries; Zack Holmes 2 cons, 3 pens) at Coogee Oval

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Manly head coach Tim Lane:

“Eighty minutes is a long time in footy, you can be 14-0 down but if you back yourself, you can work your way back into it. They’ve got to rise from that, they’ve got to have confidence and I think we’ve built a fair bit of confidence in the way that we play. I sent a message out to ‘Cotts’ (captain Chris Cottee) which was ‘Don’t worry. We start again, just play our game and get the defence sorted’. We won the kick-off and scored almost straight away. You’ve got to stick to what you do best.

“I’ve got a fair bit of faith in these guys in attack but defensively, we just made a couple of bad reads. We worked on our strategy on Tuesday and Thursday night, and I thought we may have been a little bit too tight and played a bit too wide and didn’t close down when we should have. But in the second half we were very good defensively with some really good structure. We just had to make those tackles and get our hands on the ball, if you don’t have the ball in your hands for three or four minutes, it’s pretty hard to do anything except defend. We fell off a couple here and there but I think in attack, we’re as good as any and if we get a good share of the pill, we’ll be hard to stop.

“All our backrow are very dynamic. Kotoni – in the air and in the tackle is as strong as anyone I’ve seen, and Michael Hooper on the ground. But we were on the wrong side of the ledger again with the ref and we’ve just got to sort that out. Willie’s great. He probably doesn’t attack as much as he should but a classic example of what he’s about was when we had a lineout and he’s out the back, gets into a hole, they close him down and he goes across in the next play to Benny Seymour and Benny then gives a great ball to Woody [Jacob Woodhouse]. That’s the sort of footy we want to play. We were probably unlucky with Richard Hooper going down the sideline a couple of times but not scoring.

“I just said to the boys after the game that we’ve got to where we wanted to be now and we’re up against the blokes we wanted to play. It’s up to us to make the most of our opportunity, that’s all we can do. They’re a good team and obviously, they’ve won six Premierships in a row so we’re going to have to be on our game and go out and back ourselves, and that’s what it all comes down to. Hopefully, we’ll get a couple of decisions go our way here and there and it could make all the difference.

“Daniel Halangahu is a good player, a Super 15 player and he controls the game pretty well. But we’ve got a ten that does exactly the same and it’s not going to come down to one bloke, it’s going to come down to all fifteen and who makes the best decisions on the day and takes their opportunities. It’s a major semi so you’d expect to play a good team and they’re a very good team, we’ve just got to be better.”

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Norths season has ended a couple of weeks early – Photo: SPA Images

Northern Suburbs joint head coach Scott Fava:

“We had our opportunities and in semi final football you’ve got to take them when they are available. We made a few line breaks and didn’t convert them for various reasons and we threw away too much ball as well. So the momentum that we’d created in that first twenty minutes wasn’t replicated in the second half. We had a specific game plan and the elements of it worked when the guys executed it. But sometimes they got into individual play, which created either turnover ball or turnover at the ruck because everybody else was ready for the execution of the play and the guy decided upon himself to be individual. Those elements of the game, you’ve got to try and stamp out as much as you can.

“The guys knew that an eighty minute performance was necessary for us to win this game and I think they got ahead of themselves when the sin bin happened. Straight away the boys became complacent and didn’t work hard enough to continue the momentum we created in the first twenty. Subsequently, Manly lifted on the back of that sin bin and scored those two tries and our guys were standing there wandering what just happened basically. As I said to them after the game that’s semi final football, there’s no complacency that can come into the group whatsoever, you’ve got to continue to work no matter what the circumstance. When one side lifts you’ve got to lift with them, and there’s no doubt we didn’t lift and that was the crucial point of this game.

“I thought it was a bit unfair to have that favouritism or the ‘dark horses’ tag at the start of the year because we hadn’t really done anything. I don’t know whether that contributed to our slow start to the year but unfortunately, we had to work harder to get ourselves in this position. We did that in the middle half of the year and I was quite proud of the blokes to be able to do that. But I think the back end of the year just showed the difference in class between us and the top, top sides at the moment.

“It’s a youngish group with not a lot of experience in terms of semi final football, so they’re going to learn from this. We did well but when it comes down to it we need players that are almost Super Rugby ready, and we’ve still got a lot of first graders that are in and around or on the cusp of that but probably need one more year to get themselves in that area. When I came on board I said we’re not going to win the Premiership in the first or second year, it’s going to take some time to build this group. We know that the things we put into place with these guys are going to hold them in good stead in two or three years time.”

Manly flyhalf Willie Ripia:

“I could have made it a lot easier but I thought…you know – let’s make it a spectacle! Nah, it was just one of those days where you don’t kick well but the other team kicked exceptionally well so, you can’t really factor the wind into it unfortunately, we just have to do better.

“They definitely surprised us. I guess the feel for us wasn’t as intense as you would have wanted it, especially at the start and in the warm-up. But once we got our act together we produced some good stuff. It was a big wake-up call, it just shows that when we get our act together, we can really play some good rugby but you can’t take anything away from them, they played well in that first ten to twenty minutes. They played the best rugby that any other team would want to play in these type of games so it wasn’t due to our poor defence, it was down to their great attack really stretching us and I thought they did well early on.

“There were definitely nerves there. I guess when you’ve been in that situation before you can either do it better or do the same thing, and I think we’ve learned from that and we showed that today. Even at fourteen-nil down we were still pushing and getting up each other, so while it was in the back of our minds we came through it and came good in the end.

“That’s what happens when you have youth in your team, when you’ve got exciting players like Benny Seymour, Richard Hooper and BJ Hartmann – young players who show real enthusiasm and never want to stop attacking. That’s a plus for our side but the minus is that they’ve got to show it earlier, from the first whistle to the last, we can’t really do it in patches. It’s definitely something to work on but it’s an easy thing to work on as long as we address it in the right places.

“It was all about pride in the second half. They beat us up early on and Uni will do the same thing to us so we’ve got to step up and make our tackles, our individual one-on-ones and that will go a long way towards us being successful. I haven’t played them before so it’s going to be a big pressure game but I’m looking forward to it. You live for challenges like this, not many people get to play a semi-final at this level so I’m really happy to be doing that in my first year here. I’m really excited, they’re a great bunch of blokes to play with so let’s see what we can do.”

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MANLY: 1. Dane Maraki; 2. Anthony Hegarty; 3. Eddie Aholelei; 4. Ed Gower; 5. Cadeyrn Neville; 6. Kotoni Ale; 7. Michael Hooper; 8. Tevita Metuisela; 9. Chris Cottee (c); 10. Willie Ripia; 11. BJ Hartmann; 12. Robbie Coleman; 13. Andrew Smith; 14. Jacob Woodhouse; 15. Ben Seymour

NORTHERN SUBURBS: 1. Scott Sio; 2. Ben Whittaker; 3. Al Baxter; 4. Ben Matwijow; 5. Rory Walton; 6. Jordan Smiler; 7. Wil Brame; 8. AJ Gilbert; 9. Steve Evans; 10. Zack Holmes; 11. Bill Meakes; 12. Ben Murray; 13. Samu Wara; 14. Corey Brown; 15. Cam Crawford

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

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