Hungry Woolf helps Norths produce their Sunday best

Photo: SPA Images

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With a player called Woolf on one side, and a prop with enough facial tape to resemble a mummy on the other, this always had the potential to be a horror show. Unfortunately for Gordon, that’s exactly how it played out, a local derby that rapidly turned into a nightmare as they went down to Northern Suburbs 44-15 at North Sydney Oval on Sunday.

Coming into the game on the back of some improving form, if not the results to show for it, the Highlanders never got out of the traps in this one as a sharp and clinical Norths struck early, built a gap on the scoreboard, and never looked like being reeled in.

24-3 at half-time was a pretty fair reflection of the Shoremen’s dominance, their forwards doing the hard yards to lay a platform for a backline that finally clicked into top gear. Despite a Gordon try after the break, the home side put their foot to the floor to finish with a seven tries to two victory, winger Richard Woolf and gun no.8 Michael Wells both grabbing doubles, as Norths recorded their first win in six weeks.

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It had all started so well for the Highlanders, a long range penalty from skipper Terry Preston in the opening minute giving cause for optimism in the visitor’s ranks. But they soon found themselves on the backfoot, and a smart lineout play in the 7th minute caught them napping.

Hooker Will Weeks played a short one-two with flanker James Cunningham to dash to the unguarded corner for the first try of the day, and despite Mitch Walton’s conversion drifting wide of the uprights, Norths had set the tone for their performance. They were here to play.

Mitch Walton_Norths v Souths_2014_PB

Mitch Walton – Photo: Peter Bender

With their tails up, the Shoremen tore into the Highlander ranks from the restart and set up camp on the edge of their 22. Their forwards were consistently getting over the gain line and laying the platform for the backs to see plenty of ball, and confidence began to grow as a result.

With Waratah Cam Crawford back to his favoured position of fullback and looking dangerous every time he touched the pill; Mitch Walton moving into flyhalf to call the shots; and the incisive running of Woolf on one wing and Tom Redden on the other, Norths had plenty of support options, and Gordon simply couldn’t contain them.

A few warning shots had already sounded before Woolf pounced for Norths’ second of the afternoon, Walton taking it to the line before popping a pass up for the winger to take at full speed, throw a dummy, and slice his way to the line. And two minutes later he was at it again, Gordon shooting themselves firmly in the foot as they tried to create something from deep, only for Woolf to prey on a loose pass just inside his own half and race to the sticks.

With both tries converted by Walton, facing his former side, the Red and Blacks were going along at almost a point a minute, leading 19-3 as the game entered the second quarter. When Crawford then got in on the act, gliding over off the last pass after Norths’ backs had played shuffle ball along the line to create the gap, they had a four-try bonus point before the break.

Gordon’s lot was summed up somewhat by the last play of the half. Offered a shot at the posts from a penalty accrued from a rare incursion into enemy territory, captain Preston opted for a scrum in the hope of generating something more tangible to take to the sheds. But instead, they were turned over when they went wide, and the ball was cleared to touch to signal the end of first half hostilities.

Michael Wells_Norths v Souths_2014_PB

Michael Wells was superb for the Shoremen – Photo: Peter Bender

A Walton penalty two minutes after the restart didn’t improve matters for the visitor’s. But at a time when they could have thrown in the towel and gone into meltdown, credit to the Highlanders for regrouping and having a dig.

Their first sustained period of territory in some time allowed them to build phases, the pick and drive suddenly a go-to option while the pace and power of centre Tom Matthews was always a threat around the fringes. But it was Jono Broome who lifted the spirits, the no.8 scooting from the back of a scrum to drive over from five metres to make it 27-8.

Unfortunately for the Highlanders, the score served only as a prod to the ribs of their hosts. Just minutes later, a dangerous looking driving maul was thwarted, only for Michael Wells to produce a textbook ‘hit and spin’ to find the line.

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Tobias Gukibau was in the wars for Gordon – Photo: SPA Images

When replacement Ben Matwijow, featuring for the first time since Norths’ last win (coincidence?), then stretched his frame under the posts after a typically combative charge, the game was well and truly up.

At that point, trailing 39-8 with a full quarter remaining, damage limitation was probably the order of the day for Gordon – especially when lock Jack Maguire was sent to the bin. But once again, they showed some ticker.

Replacement prop, Tobias ‘The Mummy’ Gukibau, face wreathed in tape to protect an existing injury, could barely have been able to see the line when he dove over with just under 10 minutes remaining. But his commendable effort was, in essence, troublesome only for the scoreboard attendant.

The impressive Wells went in again for the home side with a minute remaining, and the sight of Walton’s subsequent conversion hitting the post was a reminder that, on another day, Norths could have racked up the half century.

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NORTHERN SUBURBS 44 (Richard Woolf 2, Michael Wells 2, Will Weeks, Cam Crawford, Ben Matwijow tries; Mitch Walton 3 cons, pen) defeated GORDON 15 (Jono Broome, Tobias Gukibau tries; Terry Preston con, pen) at North Sydney Oval. HT 24-3

First published by Rugby News on June 2nd, 2014

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