Round 5 Preview: North & South joined by the centres

Photos: SPA Images

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North Sydney Oval is the venue for this week’s ABC Shute Shield match of the day, and it’s a heavyweight clash indeed as Northern Suburbs and Southern Districts – currently the top two on the ladder – meet to decide which of them will maintain their unbeaten status for another week.

Norths are enjoying their best start to a campaign for many a long year with four wins from four, although they readily admit that they are still a work in progress. Defence – as it was last year – has been their foundation, and they are proving to be a very tough nut to crack indeed. They are conceding an average of less than 9pts per game thus far, but will have to be at their most miserly to hold out one of the competition’s most potent attacks – when it is firing.

The excitement machine that is the Rebels backline is yet to fully click into gear in 2013. But the results – tight as they are – are still coming. They won their first three games by a total of only four points before meeting lowly Penrith at Forshaw Park last weekend. Given that the understrength Emus had conceded 165pts in their three games prior to the clash, the expectations were of a landslide. However, Souths laboured to a 32-12 win.

What to make of this one then? Two sides setting the pace and yet to lose a game, but both far from reaching anything like top gear, which is how they would want it at this time of year. It’s an intriguing clash and one that becomes harder to predict when you explore the minutiae.

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Apo Latunipulu is “The best centre I’ve played against” according to Bill Meakes – Photo: SPA Images

Two strong packs, two fiercely combative but mobile and energetic backrows, and game breakers in both backlines. Then there’s the competition’s joint-leading points-scorers in Corey Brown and Rohan Saifoloi, plus the tactical nous of two of the Shute Shield’s most decorated coaches in terms of playing achievements – former Wallabies Cam Blades and Scott Fava.

There are individual battles to relish too. Waratahs no.9 Grayson Hart against Norths tyro Liam Walker; 2012’s leading try-scorer Brown opposite one of club rugby’s hottest prospects in Oleni Ngungutau; and a lineout clash between former Waratah Chris Thomson, and current NSW custodian Jed Holloway.

But the most personal match-up will take place in midfield, where gun centres and best mates Bill Meakes and Apo Latunipulu face-off. The two first met as a part of the Australian U20’s side that travelled to Italy for the Junior World Cup in 2011, and have hit it off ever since. Now together at the National Academy in Canberra, they see each other most days, whether that’s in the gym, out on the paddock, or just socially, and have a healthy respect for each other’s ability.

“He’s without a doubt the best centre I’ve played against in the last couple of years,” says Meakes. “He has an amazing ability to break tackles and stay on his feet and he rarely misses a tackle, making him a constant threat.”

Apo returns the compliment. “Bill has a very good defensive game,” he says. “But he’s very balanced with his attack as well. He’s one to watch out wide, especially at the breakdown, where he has good skills and is good at pilfering. He’s got a good mix about him, he works hard and doesn’t mind a run. And watch out for his left foot step.”

Once the whistle goes however, all mutual appreciation goes out the window, and both will be trying their utmost to come out on top in their personal duel, be that physically or verbally.

“Billy’s good with his words,” admits Apo. “But hopefully I can come back with a few of my own. There’ll definitely be a few comments exchanged so we’ll see who comes off best, but it’ll be straight back to friendship after the game.”

Just turned 21, Latunipulu has already been in the Waratahs sights having been invited to train with them in pre-season, and would love the chance to follow another good friend, Ben Volavola, into the professional ranks. For now though, his focus is on helping the Rebels go one better than last year’s agonising one-point Grand Final loss, and while they do come into this game unbeaten, he admits that they are still building.

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Bill Meakes has “A very good defensive game, works hard and doesn’t mind a run” says Apo Latunipulu – Photo: SPA Images

“After last year, we definitely raised our expectations week-to-week,” he says. “And within the group, we’re not satisfied with where we are at the moment. The results have been good in terms of our defence, something we worked very hard on in the off-season. But discipline has let us down and let opposing teams back into games. We haven’t clicked yet as a team, as backs and forwards, but in the coming weeks we should hit our stride.”

Conceding that they were off the pace against Penrith last weekend – “We didn’t come out with the right intensity” – he is sure that Souths will be up for this one, simply because they have to be. “Training this week has been good and we’re looking forward to this clash. It will be a tough match for the whole 80 minutes, but I think the team that executes their game play well will be the victor in the end.”

A year older than his good friend, Meakes has been waiting patiently for his chance to go to the next level too, having also seen Super Rugby talent in the shape of Cam Crawford, Zack Holmes and Samu Wara progress from the backline ranks of the Red and Blacks in recent seasons.

Success at Shute Shield level offers a much larger window from which to be seen. But despite the positive start, any talk of titles at North Sydney Oval is being dampened. It’s very much a case of one game at a time, and Meakes sees this one as their toughest assignment yet.

“Souths have an electric back line that if given the chance to counter attack, will punish teams every time,” he says. “So we will be looking to keep to ball in hand and minimise our kicking. The halves, Grayson and Rohan, are very dangerous with ball in hand and a serious threat for us, not to mention their massive backrow.”

“This is definitely the biggest game to date this year, and one we’re going to have to rock up for,” he continued. “ Because in the past four weeks we’ve only played second half footy and only cruised through the first forty minutes, and I don’t think we’ll get away with that this week. It’s going to be a true test of where we’re at.”

Around the grounds, former All Black and Waratahs winger Sosene Anesi will make his first run-on appearance in 1st Grade for Parramatta this season, as the Two Blues visit Chatswood Oval to face a Gordon side in need of a win. West Harbour will pose plenty of attacking threats to an Eastwood team that is going nicely through the gears at the moment, so expect plenty of tries at TG Millner. While Warringah will be aiming to back-up last week’s memorable win at Sydney University with victory over a misfiring Randwick.

The Students are hoping to arrest a rare three-match losing streak as they trek out to the foot of the mountains to take on an improving Penrith, if last week’s 20pt loss to Souths is anything to go by. Last but by no means least, Woollahra Oval sees a buoyant Eastern Suburbs host a Manly side that has conceded 84pts in it’s last two games. Phil Blake’s return to the coaching fold at the Marlins should see the ship’s holes plugged fairly quickly.

With the competition averaging just under 50pts and almost six and a half tries per match, the Shute Shield is still the best place to go and see entertaining, running rugby on your doorstep, and at a more than reasonable price.

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TEAM LISTS:

NORTHERN SUBURBS v SOUTHERN DISTRICTS @ North Sydney Oval (3pm live on ABC TV)

Northern Suburbs: 1. Cruz Ah Nau; 2. Will Weeks; 3. Nick Lah; 4. Matt White; 5. Chris Thomson; 6. Ben Matwijow; 7. Tim Fitzgerald; 8. AJ Gilbert (c); 9. Liam Walker; 10. Scott Daruda; 11. Corey Brown; 12. Lachlan Porteous; 13. Bill Meakes; 14. Blake Murray; 15. Liam Windon

Southern Districts: 1. Duncan Chubb; 2. Andrew Sulter; 3. Tim Metcher; 4. Andrew Leota; 5. Jed Holloway; 6. Luke Smart; 7. Jono Hayes (c); 8. Lopeti Timani; 9. Grayson Hart; 10. Rohan Saifoloi; 11. Alex Gibbon; 12. Apo Latunipulu; 13. Denny Godinet; 14. Oleni Ngungutau; 15. Paul Asquith

Referee: Andrew Lees

WARRINGAH v RANDWICK @ Pittwater Rugby Park (3pm)

Warringah: 1 Ben Ryan, 2 Luke Holmes (C), 3 Wayne Borsak, 4 Ben Adams, 5 James King, 6 Sam Ward, 7 Mark Porpiglia, 8 Boyd Killingworth, 9 Joshua Holmes, 10 David Harvey, 11 Brad Dixon, 12 Michael Adams, 13 Dylan Smouha, 14 Conrad Gillingham, 15 David Feltscheer.

Randwick: 1 Faitotoa Asa, 2 Nio Halangahu, 3 Richard Aho, 4 Bryce Speechley, 5 Lai Vatadroka, 6 Seilala Lam (C), 7 Tom Conor, 8 Peter Samu, 9 Harrison Boileau, 10 Cayden Matehaere, 11 Timothy Wright, 12 David Horwitz, 13 Terrence Hepetema, 14 Rennie Lautolo, 15 Ethan Ford.

Referee: James Leckie

PENRITH v SYDNEY UNIVERSITY @Nepean Rugby Park (3pm)

Penrith: 1 Peter Niumata, 2 Kerren Straker, 3 Sione Matangi, 4 Willie Tooala, 5 Sione Fifita, 6 Vai Sosaite, 7 Adam Barrington, 8 Leo Burgess, 9 Paula Katoa, 10 Siaa Taveuveu (C), 11 James Umu, 12 Fokolulu Taumalolo, 13 Jesse Leota, 14 John Maumau, 15 Wilson Silipa.

Sydney University: 1 Alisdair King, 2 James Willan, 3 Guy Millar, 4 Sam Jeffries, 5 Liam Winton (C), 6 Tom Boidin, 7 David Hickey, 8 Benn Melrose, 9 Richard Draper, 10 Stefano Hunt, 11 Greg Jeloudev, 12 James McMahon, 13 James Dargaville, 14 John Rudd, 15 Nathan Trist.

Referee: Richard Goswell

EASTERN SUBURBS v MANLY @Woollahra Oval (3pm)

Eastern Suburbs: 1 Sione Kolo, 2 Alex Walker, 3 Rob McMickan, 4 Richard Stanford, 5 Keliti Vaingalo, 6 Andrew Shaw, 7 Ryan Hodson, 8 Pauli Taumoepeau (C), 9 Luke Irwin, 10 Henry Hudson, 11 Charlie Clifton, 12 Tom Azar, 13 Apakuki Ma’afu, 14 Anton La Vin, 15 Will Fay.

Manly: 1 Eddie Aholelei, 2 Pat Leofa, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 4 Ed Gower (C), 5 Dylan Sigg, 6 Harry Bergelin, 7 Kotoni Ale, 8 Jordy Reid, 9 Adam Crerar, 10 BJ Hartmann, 11 Richard Hooper, 12 Brian Sefanaia, 13 Will Helu, 14 Damien Reti, 15 Jacob Woodhouse.

Referee: Nathan Pearce

EASTWOOD v WEST HARBOUR @ T. G. Millner Field (3pm)

Eastwood: 1 Jed Gillespie, 2 Todd Pearce, 3 Dylan Brass, 4 Steve Cummins, 5 Mitch Lees, 6 Sione Tau, 7 Hugh Perrett (C), 8 Jared Barry, 9 Shannin Proctor, 10 Jimmy Hilgendorf, 11 Nick Batger, 12 Michael McDougall, 13 Cam Mitchell, 14 Nick Reily, 15 Ben Batger.

West Harbour: 1 David Lolohea, 2 Reg De Jager, 3 Vaughan Lomax, 4 Alfred Pinomi, 5 Chris Simons, 6 Tom Games (C), 7 Cohen Masson, 8 Matt Coles, 9 David Osofua, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 11 Tito Mua, 12 Winston Wilson, 13 Alofa Alofa, 14 Macquire Tatola, 15 Dylan Taikato-Simpson.

Referee: Ian Smith

GORDON v PARRAMATTA @Chatswood Oval (3pm)

Gordon: 1. Tobias Gukibau (c); 2. Jim Handlin; 3. Willy Maumalanga; 4. Mark Johnson; 5. Seb Murphy; 6. Andrew Turner; 7. Gordon Broome; 8. Jono Broome; 9. Terry Preston; 10. Mitch Walton; 11. Vesi Tokalaulevu; 12. Tom Mathews; 13. Mark Preston; 14. Richie Williams; 15. Will Shirvington

Parramatta: 1. Nick Blacklock; 2. Myles Hunkin; 3. Chris Seuteni; 4. Charlie Leaeno; 5. Adam Coleman; 6. Evan Olmstead; 7. Rodney Ma’a; 8. Josh Kaifa; 9. Troy Lobendahn; 10. Dan Rawaqa; 11. Damien Fakafanua; 12. Tukia Muli; 13. Dan Yakopo; 14. Moses Tavola; 15. Sosene Anesi (c)

Referee: Anthony Moyes

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Original version published by Rugby News on May 4th, 2013

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