Shock Emus win upsets the pecking order
Photo: SPA Images
Penrith have pulled off the shock off the season so far, with a 24-20 victory over table-topping Southern Districts at Forshaw Park. On a day when the inclement weather made life difficult for both sides, it was the Emus who adapted better to the slippery conditions, played the smarter football, and deserved their victory – outscoring their hosts by four tries to two.
The Rebels had only hit the top of the ladder a week ago, after giving Northern Suburbs the runaround at a dry and sunny North Sydney Oval. But in persistent, driving rain, their attacking intent was severely blunted as the Emus claimed another famous scalp on their travels. The win lifted Penrith up to 10th on the Shute Shield table.
Given the adverse weather, it was understandable that it took time for either side to gain any kind of foothold in the match. But when Rohan Saifoloi struck the opening points on 10 minutes through a penalty, you sensed that the local faithful believed it was merely the start of the formalities. When Penrith crossed for the first five-pointer two minutes later however, they were forced into a rethink.
Taking the restart after the penalty, the Emus regathered possession and stuck to their strengths, picking and driving their way forward until a long, looping pass wide from the back of the ruck found Konelio Burgess, who put Tala Mapesone over in the corner. Fred Tuua’s conversion was spectacularly charged down by a leaping Ben Connolly, but the first note of caution had most definitely been struck.
When Connolly himself restored the Rebels lead minutes later – same flank, different red zone – it appeared as though a try-fest might be on the cards, despite the best efforts of the rain. And the see-saw nature of the scoreboard continued when the Emus crossed for their second just before the end of the first quarter, scrum-half Solomona Silipa on hand to finish off some good work from loosehead prop Toa Asa.
Back came Souths in the 26th minute, Junior Waratah Grayson Hart sneaking a grubber in behind an advancing defence to give Sam Latunipulu his seventh try of an increasingly impressive season. And the same play would have worked again 10 minutes later but for an outstretched Emu hand touching down first.
Now 17-12 ahead with five minutes until half-time, Souths started to look a bit more cohesive. With Atieli Pakalani looking strong and elusive in the tackle, they were still – admirable but naïve – trying to move the ball wide and run from their own half. Conversely, the Emus were playing to the conditions in textbook fashion, looking for field position, keeping it tight and using their powerful forward runners to drive towards the chalk. And although the try they then scored in the shadows of the break only drew them level, it was a bitter psychological blow to the Rebels in both circumstance, and timing.
An attempted bomb upfield from Mapesone, fizzled out in orbit to be little more than a wobbly clearance. But when two Rebels got in a tangle trying to field it, the ball skewed back into Emu hands and was fed to the galloping winger, who had chased his slice and now streaked away into open field to level the scores. The missed conversion did little to mute the groans of concern amongst the members on the clubhouse pavilion.
That concern turned to genuine horror as Penrith – buoyed by their equanimity on the scoreboard – pounced once more straight after half-time, when a powerful lineout drive towards the posts was eventually finished by Burgess, and Tuua added the extras.
The increasing frustration in the home crowd was now turning it’s attention to the referee, who – it has to be said – wasn’t exactly helping himself with a succession of questionable decisions, although his dismissal of Burgess to the sin-bin for laying over the ball in the 48th minute, did draw a ripple of sarcastic applause.
Safoloi punished that indiscretion to reduce the arrears to 24-20, and with half an hour remaining you still felt that Souths would get out of jail. However, dogged, desperate and bloody-minded defence from the visitors, and a host of handling errors from the home side, combined to cruel their efforts and end the day’s scoring.
The weather was a definite leveller, and the officiating may have been a tad inconsistent at times. But Souths failure to make their brief man advantage pay, their persistence with a more expansive game that the conditions just weren’t conducive to, and poor decision making in the final five minutes when awarded two penalties inside the Emus 22, should not take away from a terrific achievement by a Penrith side who were deserved winners.
PENRITH 24 (Tala Mapesone 2, Konelio Burgess, Solomona Silipa tries; Fred Tuua 2 cons) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 20 (Ben Connolly, Sam Latunipulu tries; Rohan Safoloi 2 cons, 2 pens)
Penrith head coach Matt Briggs:
“I think we played very aggressively in attack, which is something we focus on at training – playing big and playing physical in attack. It’s easy to say that in defence, but I think in attack it was really important that we did, and we stepped up and made many yards just going off the fringes. They made some basic errors in the wet but we gave them that half a yard, got up off the line, and forced a lot of turnover ball.
“I’ve been telling them all year that when they hold the ball, they’re as dangerous as any side in the competition. Physically, we’re not intimidated by anyone, it’s just our execution and discipline that lets us down and that’s something that – as a coach – you’ve just got to grind into them and make it habit forming, and it showed today. A lot of hard work has paid off.
“I think due to circumstances, it’s right up there with the best wins we’ve had in my time at the club. We literally pieced together some new players and stayed true to the guys that worked hard last year, and they’re just starting to gel. That’s our first four-try bonus for the year, which is a bit surprising to me. But I think it’s probably testament to what we’re focusing on, which is trying to be more disciplined. At the end of the day, if you make the top eight it’s week-to-week, and we’re certainly not out of the equation. I think that’s a real shot in the arm for us to have two weeks off now with that sort of feeling.”
Southern Districts head coach Cam Blades:
“They definitely held the ball better than we did, they played smarter options than we did, and it was pretty frustrating to watch. We just didn’t seem to dig ourselves out of it. We either went one-out or we made a lot of mistakes, and they fed off that. They played really well, they were nice and physical, forced a lot of turnovers, they were more enthusiastic onto the loose ball. All those little things where you judge where sides are at mentally, and they won most of those battles and in the end, the game, so I’m not real happy. We probably had them in a lot of areas around the park, but not in the areas that counted at the end of the day, which is frustrating.
“We can’t hide behind close calls or conditions, and if we want to be the team I think we can be, then we have to be honest with ourselves and say that wasn’t good enough. We could get another day that’s wet, we could get another day where we miss out on a lot of those close calls, and we’ve got to be good enough for that not to be a deciding factor. Today we got rattled. They won the mind game of the conditions, and we had some blokes who went a bit quiet, and some blokes who tried to control the game a bit too much, and it just didn’t quite work. If we’d got away with a win at the end, it wouldn’t have been just.
“It’s probably the only poor full game we’ve put in – we’ve had patches in other games – but this was pretty ordinary from start to finish. I’ve given them the challenge to go away and look at their game and reassess where they’re at, and where we went wrong. Maybe it just showed that we’re not quite there yet, but I think we’ll regroup fairly well from it and hopefully go up to Warringah in a couple of weeks time and vent a bit of this frustration. Today was a bit of a bump in the road, we’ve just got to make sure it’s a bump not a crater. That’s a challenge but I think we’ve got enough resolve in the group and enough confidence to bounce back from it.”
Penrith hooker Kerren Straker:
“We just wanted to use our forwards and not play expansive rugby, and it paid off today. Cohen Masson was all over it at the breakdown, we made our first-up tackles, we put in the big hits across the park, and the midfield really stepped up as well. It just feels like all the hard work paid off, and as soon as the whistle goes and you’ve just knocked off the team at the top of the table, it was awesome.
“The expectation from everyone is ‘Oh, it’s only Penrith’ but we’re a different team this year. We’ve got better strength, we’ve got good coaching staff, good trainers, the club President comes down and helps us out with training – there’s just a real good family vibe out there. Every week we turn up and the boys are still eager and keen, and we’ve finally got the numbers on board so there’s depth coming through the bench as well. The boys know that they can give their all, knowing that there’s someone else on the sideline that can take their spot ,so they are turning up to training and having to work for it.
“What Matt [Briggs] tries to instil in us every week is that we always have to believe in ourselves, and I think that belief is starting to come in. At the start of the year we were happy just to be competitive but now, we’re sick of being competitive, we can win, and I think that showed today with the way we defended in our twenty-two. We had the belief and we knew we could win.”
Southern Districts: 1. Tetera Faulkner; 2. Andrew Sulter; 3. Tim Metcher; 4. Andrew Leota; 5. Andrew Archibald; 6. Sean Doyle (c); 7. Sam Latunipulu; 8. Matt Swann; 9. Grayson Hart; 10. Rohan Saifoloi; 11. Ben Connolly; 12. Lester Salanoa; 13. Alex Gibbon; 14. Atieli Pakalani; 15. Brackin Karuaria-Henry
Penrith: 1. Toa Asa; 2. Kerren Straker; 3. Richard Aho; 4. Tyrone Emelio; 5. Konelio Burgess; 6. Junior Ta’avili; 7. Cohen Masson; 8. Jason Peseta; 9. Solomona Silipa; 10. Fokolulu Taumalolo; 11. Tala Mapesone; 12. Fred Tuua; 13. Mark Murray; 14. Wilson Silipa; 15. Chris Aunese-Scanlan
First published by clubrugby.com.au on June 5th, 2012