Round 9 Preview – Rebels on the rebound against Manly

Just over two weeks ago, Southern Districts were sitting pretty on top of the Shute Shield ladder, the only unbeaten side still left in the competition. That record then fell in Round 7 as Sydney University, their usurpers in last year’s Grand Final, came back to haunt them once again with a fiercely contested 5pt win.

No time for panic was the mantra from the Rebels after the loss. It was still early days in the season, it was just a case of getting back on the wagon and rolling on towards Randwick in the next one. However, while they went into last Saturday’s game as strong favourites to do just that, they came out the other side with their tail firmly between their legs, the latest victim of a reborn Galloping Green machine that is not only playing some fine football, but is also remembering how to win big games again.

So, where to now for Souths? If they were hoping for a helping hand from the fixtures computer to get back in the winners circle quick-smart, they’ve been sadly let down, as next up for them this weekend are Manly. If Souths have taken a couple of steps backwards over the last couple of weeks, the Marlins are experiencing a positive projection in the opposite direction, having won their last four under returning coach Phil Blake.

An impressive six try win at Woollahra Oval over Easts back in Round 5 was Manly’s own Lazarus-like moment, as they recovered from back-to-back 40pt floggings at the hands of Parramatta and Eastwood. A week later they put 40pts themselves on bitter rivals Warringah, then followed that with a win over a competitive Penrith at the foot of the mountains, before another comprehensive victory over the tail-spinning Northern Suburbs last weekend, holding the Shoremen to a mere 7pts at the Village Green.

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Kotoni Ale will have a pivotal role to play in denying possession to Souths’ powerful back row – Photo: SPA Images

Blake has been pleased with the response of his side to those defeats but also with the application of the younger players that have been introduced to Shute Shield rugby.

“The last month’s been pretty productive for us,” he said. “We’re certainly a long way from the finished product, but we’re working towards that and in the meantime, we’ve exposed a lot of young kids to 1st Grade football, which has probably been the most pleasing thing from the club’s point of view.

“Sometimes, with these young and inexperienced kids, keeping them focused is probably the hardest challenge for a coach,” he continues. “Everyone that plays 1st Grade goes through it. Some get there a little earlier than others, but an eighteen week season compared to eight or ten weeks at schoolboy level, it has its challenges. But we’ve been working hard and preparing really well, which is half the battle.”

Those four wins have also seen the Marlins average 39pts, a clear indication that their attacking game is going pretty well. But as Blake points out, it’s the other end of the field he’s concerned about.

“The defence has been a massive problem and that’s something that we’ve addressed since I came on board. Even though we won comfortably against the Rats and Easts, we still gave up seven tries in those games, and we gave a few up at Penrith as well. So our focus last week was to draw a line in the sand, and it showed with us only conceding 7pts.

“We leaked a try in the 9th minute and didn’t concede one for the rest of the game, and that’s the sort of commitment we need towards our defence, because at the end of the day, the team with the better numbers on the defensive side usually win the big games at the end of the season. The attack’s not the problem – we can score tries, it’s the ability to stop them that’s going to prove the difference for this team moving forward.”

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Dangerman: Oleni Ngungutau can hurt you from anywhere – Photo: SPA Images

From Southern Districts’ perspective, it’s about getting back to what they were doing well in the early rounds, while also recognising that, considering the level of their performance has been below the standards they’ve set themselves, six wins from eight games is not a bad place to be one game out from the bye.

“While we’ve shown improvements in certain areas of our game, we haven’t improved as quickly as I would have liked in areas where we’re very inconsistent,” says head coach Cam Blades. “We’ve got a fairly different side to what we had last year, and last year we didn’t have too many injuries. We lost a few guys to overseas clubs, but we were pretty lucky on the injury front in general. This year, we’ve had a pretty horrendous injury toll, and that may be one of the things that’s holding us back.

“I can’t knock the courage and the effort from the guys, but we’ve lacked a bit of discipline in terms of giving away penalties, and in terms of valuing possession. That’s cost us in terms of territory and possession overall, so we’ve got to correct those things. They’re fairly minor and most of it is in the space between the ears unfortunately, and that’s something I’m working really hard on.”

Whilst conceding that the loss to Randwick – on the back of the Uni defeat – was a wake-up call, Blades was keen to give credit to the opposition.

“We probably hit two teams in pretty good form. We’ve gone along all year and won six and lost two and not played particularly well, and when we played against teams that have played well in the last two weeks, we’ve struggled.

“Randwick have been in red-hot form the last month, and whether it was complacency from our point of view I don’t know but we lacked a lot of discipline. We gave away a lot of silly penalties and copped a hiding in the penalty count, and when you’re doing that the results pretty much look after themselves. There’s a few things we’re not doing well at the moment, and unless we correct them we’ll struggle to beat any side, let alone sides in good form.”

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Crouch, touch, set: Manly’s pack is one of the best in the Shute Shield but so is Souths – Photo: SPA Images

Despite the Rebels’ recent downturn in fortunes, Phil Blake has the utmost respect for an opponent that he’s watched improve immeasurably in recent years.

“If you look at their results, even in the games that they’ve lost it’s only been close,” he reasons. “And in the tougher games against tougher opponents they’ve been close too, so the coach has obviously built a team with a lot of resilience over the last couple of years, because they’re probably the best team in the competition when it comes to a dogfight.

“They’re a very well-drilled side and they’ve got plenty of points in them. Their midfield and back three are as good as any in the competition, and if you turnover ball or play in an unstructured environment then they have the potential to really hurt you. We’ve been working on a few things this week based around not bringing them into the game off the back of our mistakes. If we can do that and contain their midfield and back three, it will put us in a position where we won’t be far off the pace come the end of the eighty minutes.”

While he sees threats all across the park, Blake is wary of one guy in particular.

“Lopeti Timani is their go-to man. He’s a big, powerful ball-runner, so we’ll certainly be looking to limit his involvement because he gets them going forward off that front-foot ball. Ben Volavola’s a class act whether he plays at 10 or fullback, and their tight five is as honest as the day is long. They’re not dissimilar to our tight five, they turn up and grind away and hit rucks and win set-piece ball, so there’s actually a lot of similarities between the two sides.

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Lopeti Timani is a giant headache for any opposition – Photo: SPA Images

“We’re under no illusions, we understand this is going to be the toughest 80 minutes we’ve been confronted with this year. At the end of the day, if you’re going to play Grand Final or semi-final football, you’re going to have to beat Souths because they’re going to be there. Irrespective of the result this week, they’re one of the heavyweights of the competition and they showed that over the last couple of years. They’re a classy outfit.”

Blades is equally appreciative of the qualities that Manly bring to the table. But is more concerned about the response of his own players than worrying too much about the opposition.

“They’re a physically imposing side and you know you’re going to be in for a physical battle,” he says. “But they’ve also got the ability to play with a good bit of width when they want to. They’re pretty strong across the park and they’re a side that we’re taking very seriously.

“But while there will obviously be a few little tactical things we’ll take into the game that are specific to Manly, in all honesty, we’ve got to get a few key things right in our game first. If we do that, I’m confident we can run with any team. We’ve only lost two games and questions are being asked, but I’m quite comfortable with people writing us off and we’ll just get on with things. We’re probably not front-runners, we’re probably a side that prefers to be flying under the radar a bit anyway.”

Southern Districts v Manly @ Forshaw Rugby Park. (ABC TV Game)

Southern Districts: 1 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Duncan Chubb, 3 Tim Metcher, 4 Andrew Leota, 5 Jake Douglas, 6 Luke Smart, 7 Jono Hayes (C), 8 Lopeti Timani, 9 Grayson Hart, 10 Rohan Saifoloi, 11 Alex Gibbon, 12 Rayhan Laulala, 13 Faleula Finau, 14 Oli Ngungutau, 15 Ben Volavola.

Manly: 1 Andrew Collins, 2 Dave Porecki, 3 Tim Fairbrother (C), 4 Ryan Melrose, 5 Dylan Sigg, 6 Harry Bergelin, 7 Kotoni Ale, 8 Daniel Alley, 9 Adam Crerar, 10 Marshall Milroy, 11 Damien Reti, 12 Brian Sefanaia, 13 Jacob Woodhouse, 14 Richard Hooper, 15 Tom Chesters.

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Team Lists from around the grounds:

Shute Shield Round 9A matches – Saturday June 1 (3pm)

Sydney University v Randwick @ Sydney University Oval No.1

Sydney University: 1 Jeremy Tilse, 2 James Willan, 3 Sam Talakai, 4 Byron Hodge, 5 Liam Winton, 6 Tom Boidin, 7 David Hickey, 8 Tim Davidson (C), 9 Jake Gordon, 10 Stuart Dunbar, 11 Greg Jeloudev, 12 Tom Carter, 13 Michael Hodge, 14 James Dargaville, 15 Alex Rokobaro.

Randwick: 1 Faitotoa Asa, 2 Nio Halangahu, 3 Richard Aho, 4 Geoff Ingram, 5 Lai Vatadroka, 6 Seilala Lam (C), 7 Jack Johnson, 8 Will Munro, 9 Harrison Boileau, 10 Cayden Matehaere, 11 Ethan Ford, 12 David Horwitz, 13 Terrence Hepetema, 14 Rennie Lautolo, 15 Kurtley Beale/Toby Brown.

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Warringah v Eastwood @ Pittwater Rugby Park

Warringah: 1 Ben Ryan, 2 Rob Kelly, 3 Richard Southan, 4 Ben Adams, 5 Vincent Wright, 6 Pierce Howell, 7 James Casey, 8 James King 9 Joshua Holmes, 10 Scott Bradley, 11 Brad Dixon, 12 Ed Doyle, 13 Michael Adams, 14 Conrad Gillingham, 15 David Feltscheer (C).

Eastwood: 1 Jed Gillespie, 2 Todd Pearce, 3 Marty Plokstys, 4 Jared Barry, 5 Mitch Lees, 6 Gareth Palamo, 7 Hugh Perrett (C), 8 Sione Tau, 9 Shanin Proctor, 10 Jimmy Hilgendorf, 11 Nick Batger, 12 Michael McDougall, 13 Tom Hill, 14 Nick Reilly, 15 Ben Batger.

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Penrith v Parramatta @ Nepean Rugby Park

Penrith: 1 Peter Niumata, 2 Kerren Straker, 3 Nigel Vaifale, 4 Willie Tooala, 5 Sione Pusi Fifita, 6 Vai Sosaite, 7 Pita Tupou, 8 Leo Burgess, 9 Siaa Taveuvu (C), 10 Fokolulu Taumalolo, 11 Henry Lilomaiava, 12 James Umu, 13 Wilson Silipa, 14 Keori Okati, 15 Solomona Silipa

Parramatta: 1 Nick Blacklock, 2 Myles Hunkin, 3 Luke Troy, 4 Ian Parkinson, 5 Adam Coleman, 6 Josh Kaifa, 7 Rodney Ma’a, 8 William Tuitupou, 9 Troy Lobendahn, 10 Sam Yakopo, 11 Sosene Anesi (C), 12 Tukia Muli, 13 Damien Fakafanua, 14 Moses Tavola, 15 Dan Rawaqa

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Sunday June 2 (3.10pm)

Northern Suburbs v West Harbour @ Bluetongue Stadium

Northern Suburbs: 1 Cruz Ah Nau, 2 Scott Podmore, 3 Nick Lah, 4 Michael O’Hea 5 Chris Thompson, 6 Hugh Sinclair, 7 Sam Figg, 8 AJ Gilbert (C),  9 Michael Dowsett, 10 Scott Daruda, 11 Jack Grant, 12 Michael Freeman, 13 Bill Meakes, 14 Peter Schuster, 15 Liam Windon

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 Henry Seavula, 14 Alofa Alofa, 15 Shaun Treweek

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Shute Shield Round 9B match – Saturday June 8 (3pm)

Eastern Suburbs v Gordon @ Woollahra Oval

The teams for this match will be announced next week.

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First published by Rugby News on June 1st, 2013

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