Easts flounder as Kay guides Shoremen home

Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

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Having gone into the Woollahra Oval sheds at half-time on Saturday trailing Eastern Suburbs 10-3, but a man to the good after an early red card for the Beasties, Northern Suburbs returned to produce exactly what was required to get the job done in the second forty. Kick to the corners, use their dominant lineout, milk the points, and take the opportunities when they arose. As a result, they notched up three tries while keeping their hosts scoreless to run out convincing 31-10 winners.

Given their relative youth and inexperience, it was an impressive statement from a side made up of newcomers and the remnants of last year’s outfit, which limped home in 11th place on the Shute Shield ladder with only four wins to its name. They’ve matched that figure already after only five rounds this season, and with performances as polished as that second forty against the Beasties, it’s no great surprise.

An uninspiring opening stanza had been noteworthy only for the red card shown to Easts winger Will Paterson for a spear tackle, and for the indelible stamp on the game made by Waratah Jonno Lance, who converted his own try and added a penalty to claim all 10 of his side’s points at oranges. But acutely applied pressure from the visitors after the resumption brought ill discipline and penalty points, before the game broke open as Easts chased the scoreboard and the Shoremen picked them off with a trio of well worked five-pointers.

“We knew it was going to be tough the first half because they generally start really strong, so we wanted to weather the storm for the first 25 minutes and then get into what we do best,” Norths skipper Ben Matwijow said at the final whistle. “We came out pretty flat, and halfway through the half we were just trying to gee ourselves up to get into the game. Obviously, playing against 14 blokes helps, but we’ll take the rub of the green when we get it and run with it.

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Norths flyhalf Josh Kay racked up an impressive 21pt haul – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

“We let that try in early solely from our flatness I felt. But once we got a bit of a roll on and got into the game, it felt like we could really start to put some pressure on them. Something we really spoke about before the game was taking the points when they were on offer and piling on the pressure when we can. We did that and held tough at the other end, so I’m really proud of the boys for that effort.”

A squad that has come together very quickly under new man Simon Cron, is already fulfilling the early expectations they set themselves in pre-season, as they look to turn the club around from cellar dwellers to finals contenders. “We had a real game plan at the start of the year and we’re succeeding with it so far,” explains Matwijow. “We definitely thought this was where we’d be from the conversations we had at the start of the year. We definitely wanted to win at least four from our first five and we have.

“We’ve got a big few weeks coming up, with Sydney Uni next week and Manly the week after. So we thought this game might dictate our year, and a win could really give us some positive steps going into the next couple of weeks, whereas a loss could have put a lot of pressure on us. So I’m really glad we came through.”

Their task was clearly made all the more easier by the red card shown to Paterson. But Easts coach Darren Coleman refused to use that as an excuse for his side’s ineptness, particularly after the break. “I think the sending off was inconsequential, we were poor, full stop,” he said. “I thought the first half we didn’t really execute well, and we’re just a team really lacking confidence at the moment.

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Easts coach Darren Coleman has a challenge on his hands to turn the Beasties around – Photo: SPA Images

“We just can’t give up that many simple dropped balls, our lineout is in a lot of trouble, and we’re just losing the ball at the contact point too much. Norths were tactically smart, even their patterns once we lost our right winger, they were coming back down our right side and they kicked into our left corner very well in the second half. The fact that we couldn’t protect that corner as well as we wanted, plus our lineout troubles, meant that we didn’t really get out of our end.”

Key to executing those game smarts was Norths flyhalf Josh Kay. Playing only his fifth 1st Grade game since making the step up from Colts, the 21-year-old ran the show after the break, mixing his game up nicely with some supremely accurate touch-finders and an ability to find his runners when the option was on, before providing the icing on the cake with a superb cross-field kick which led to the Shoremen’s final try. He’s already showing signs of having an old head on young shoulders.

“It was about taking advantage of them being a man down, we wanted to make their back two work a lot harder so I kept pinging that corner where the winger was and it paid dividends in the end,” he explained. “The forwards set a good platform for me, the boys outside are talking to me a lot, so, it was just a case of plug the corners, get the ball in front of the forwards – happy days!”

He’s clearly revelling in his time as the side’s conductor. “I’m loving it, I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of boys to start playing with and I’m getting some good direction from ‘Crono’, which makes my job a lot easier,” he beamed. “A few of us have come up from Colts where we had a few good seasons, and we’ve brought that confidence with us into grade. Being the young pups didn’t really make a difference to us, we just wanted to stand up and take ownership of the opportunity and we’re all loving it.”

His coach shares his enthusiasm. “When we talk about game management your nine and ten are a big part of that. So we’ve been working a lot with them on some videos, showing them different parts around where we want to go and when, and building that rugby brain – and jeez, he’s doing it!” purred Cron.

“Today, everything that we asked of him he executed, and I’m really proud of him at his age. He had a different 12 outside him today, which can be scary too, but I thought that under pressure, he was very good.”

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Norths prop Lawrance Hunting on the charge – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

Having overseen a fourth win for his young side, Cron was hugely encouraged by their ability to dig in after a lacklustre opening and get the job done over what he rates as a very dangerous opponent. 

“I think we were flittery in what we were doing in the first half, we had guys in the defensive line spreading too wide and giving too much room,” he said. “We did have a lot of injuries from last week, which we needed to manage coming into this game. We had a new 12 and a 13 who was literally limping all game, so between the two of them we kind of had some forwards covering their space as well which, to be honest, made us disconnect a little bit, and I think it took us a while to settle into what we were doing.

“At half-time, I just said to the boys ‘Let’s do what we’ve been working on for the last four or five weeks’, and I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of boys in terms of the way they executed everything that we’ve been talking about game management wise. Josh Kay’s kicking, the line chase and pressure at the breakdown, I thought in the second half they did all the things that we’ve been working towards.

“When you’re facing two Super Rugby players in Tala Gray in the backrow and Jonno Lance at 12, it’s not easy. Jonno opened us up in that first half and showed how good he is as a player, he’s outstanding. I think Easts are a very good side and I was happy to come away with a win, no doubts.”

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Jonno Lance was a standout in a losing side for the Beasts – Photo: SPA Images

While it’s coming up roses for Norths right now, the fresh seedlings acquired by Easts in the off-season are struggling to germinate. But despite the paucity of their return so far in 2015 – one win from five is clearly not what the doctor ordered – Darren Coleman refuses to pay lip service to the predictable observation that his team are still getting to know one another.

“No, that’s just an excuse. We’ve had two trials and five rounds of footy now and I’ve gelled teams quicker than this before,” he asserts. “We’ve played two good games out of five and we are what we were last year, which was inconsistent. However, it’s a really good challenge. I’ve never been in a position like this – one and four. I’m not sure about the players, but it will be a good test of my character and the team’s character to see how we get out of it.

“We’re on a pretty big low at the moment, that’s two really bad performances in a row, two performances where we’ve embarrassed the club. Today was a really big day here in front of our home fans. We’ve won every other grade and it’s becoming a common theme, our first grade team is letting the club down. We’ve got a few things to figure out and quickly because we go to Randwick and Eastwood next and unless something changes, we’ll be one and six.”

The next challenge for Norths will be another test of their genuine mettle as Sydney University visit North Sydney Oval for the ANZAC Day clash this Saturday afternoon. Their strength in depth will be tested by the loss of gun openside Will Miller, scans confirming that he broke his hand early in the piece against Easts – a testament to his fortitude that he saw out the game whilst clearly handicapped. And as Simon Cron affirms, if anything is going to put a spoke in the Red and Black wheels this season, it’s injuries.

“Positionally, we’ve been trying to coach some depth in terms of knowing the game. But at first grade it evolves quite quickly, versus second grade even, and you need time. First and foremost, next week is about rehab, recovery and nutrition, and then we go again. I know some coaches like to look at the ladder each week but personally, I kind of think it’s irrelevant. I’m more interested in us and in having consistent performances where we can play as we did in that second half for 80 minutes, and the rest will take care of itself.”

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NORTHERN SUBURBS 31 (Mitch Magrath, Josh Kay, Richard Woolf tries; Josh Kay 2 cons, 4 pens) defeated EASTERN SUBURBS 10 (Jonno Lance try; con, pen) at Woollahra Oval HT 3-10

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Eastern Suburbs: 1. Clay Brodie; 2. Rodney Ma’a; 3. Jake Ilnicki; 4. Fergus Lee-Warner; 5. BJ Edwards; 6. Tyrone Viiga; 7. Sam Stitcher (c); 8. Tala Gray; 9. Angus Pulver; 10. Henry Hudson; 11. Charlie Clifton; 12. Jonno Lance; 13. Kotaro Matsushima; 14. Will Paterson; 15. Alex Newsome – Replacements: Sione Kolo;  Clarrie Moore; James Graham; Jack Grant; Robert Mate; Daniel Arona; Tom Williams; Michael Mate

Northern Suburbs: 1. Tyron Rota; 2. Will Weeks; 3. Lawrance Hunting; 4. Michael O’Hea; 5. Nick Palmer; 6. Ben Matwijow (c); 7. Will Miller; 8. Hugh Sinclair; 9. Mitch McGrath; 10. Josh Kay; 11. Lochie Creagh; 12. Lachlan Porteous; 13. Jordan Heyer; 14. Richie Woolf; 15. John Porch – Replacements: Michael Freeman; Kevin McNamara; Sape Misa; Jake Butcher

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Original version published by Rugby News on April 21st, 2015

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