The Wash-Up: Rd 15 – Manly v Northern Suburbs
Photo: Adam Mac Photography
With only one loss from their fourteen matches prior to kick-off, Manly were facing their final four games of the regular season with a view to staying on top of the pile ahead of the finals series. But with only a point separating them and Eastwood in second, bonus points were also on the agenda.
Norths meanwhile, were one of several teams hovering in and around the crucial top six spots. They came into this one with a fair degree of confidence after the performance they put in against the Marlins five weeks ago in defeat, but with injuries and absences in the front row forcing an unplanned reshuffle.
It was the Shoremen who started the brighter, boasting plenty of possession in the opening quarter of an hour but with precious little go forward in the process, as Manly set a well organised defensive line. Having soaked up the pressure, the Marlins went over first on 16 minutes through Richard Hooper, closely followed by an intercept try to flyhalf Sam Lane, and when Alex Northam ran in number three on the half hour to make it 22-0, a long day at the office loomed for the visitors.
However, a well executed breakaway try, gleefully finished off by prop Tyron Rota, and a conversion soon followed by a penalty from Mitch Walton, left a more manageable 12pt gap at the break, at 22-10.
The home side regrouped to punish some slack play seven minutes after the break, in what proved to be the most popular five-pointer of the day. Prop Dane Maraki charged down a clearing kick, chased the loose pill into the in-goal area, and got the fortuitous bounce required to put the broadest of smiles on not only him, but all current or former members of the front-rowers union in the grandstand as well.
That was the score that broke the visitors, giant centre John Fakai gaining reward for his impressive display with a double before the hour to make it 39-10. But with the result seemingly in the bag, the expected raft of Marlins replacements in the closing quarter couldn’t go on with the job, and two converted tries in the final four minutes painted a far rosier picture for a Norths side well beaten on the day.
Despite being happy to claim the bonus point win, Marlins head coach Damien Cummins was left frustrated by his side’s late lapse of concentration.
“Last week against Easts we played for about 55 minutes, and I said to them, ‘Let’s give a good 70 minute performance,’ which we did. It was just the five minutes at the end of each half where we gave them 24pts that pissed me off,” he said.
“I made my feelings known after the game. In 10 minutes, you can’t be letting in 24pts and come finals time, if you let 24pts in across the whole match you’re a chance of losing it. I told the guys as a group that, if and when you come off the bench – any of them – you’re not just there to make up the numbers or for the sake of it, you’re there to have an impact on the game and make a difference. But it’s not a hard thing to address. The things we might be getting a little bit caught out on are not hard things to address, which is a positive.”
Having only edged the Shoremen out 17-13 when they met a month ago at North Sydney Oval, a game which could easily have gone the other way, Manly were keen to avoid a repeat performance this time around. However, there were mitigating factors around that previous clash as it came a week after a mentally and physically draining local derby with Warringah, a game that also saw captain Kotoni Ale’s season ended by a horrific leg break.
“The reality of that first game was that we’d just come off the Rats game,” explained Cummins. “The build up to that is always quite big but also, the emotion of what happened to Kotoni I think floored a lot of people and I’ll be honest, I struggled to get up to coach that week after seeing that. Norths probably played their best half of footy of the season in that game and we probably played our worst and they’re not a bad side, they’re maybe two or three players short of being a really good side.
“I told the forwards that we got dominated across the park in that first game to a certain extent and that, with three weeks to go, we needed to put a bit of a stamp on this competition, and that’s what we did. If we learned anything from the first game, it was an acceptance of how poor we were.”
Lock Ed Gower agreed that the big difference this time out was his team’s success at the breakdown, and the ability to force Norths into playing the game on their terms.
“Last time we played them they were really good at disrupting us in the way that we like to play,” he observed. “It wasn’t our day in terms of a few different things that didn’t fall into place. But I guess more than anything, sometimes you just have down weeks where you can’t get up for the game and that was one of them.
“They really came at us hard last time and I think today we had that in mind and we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, and that’s why we played the way we wanted to play in the first twenty. There were a couple of moments where they did what they did and scored a couple of tries and that was disappointing for us, that was exactly what we were trying to stop them doing. But for the most part, we did what we wanted to do and played the way we wanted to play.”
A feature of Manly’s success was their ability to get over the gain line with aggressive ball carriers, an area of the game where Norths clearly came up short. And in John Fakai, the home side had a wrecking ball with an end product.
“Another thing that we addressed before the game is that Norths do play side-to-side a lot, and we knew that one of our strengths is playing direct,” said Gower. “John Fakai is one of those guys who, if you can just give him the ball he’s going to run straight every time, and sometimes that’s all you need. He runs, makes metres and you work off that. We tried to do that in the forwards sometimes, and we built phases and had forwards rolling around the corner continuously and we got pay out of that. We just need to keep doing that kind of stuff.
“When you’ve got a guy like John and you’ve got to throw spanners at him to stop him, it’s a great weapon to have,” Cummins agreed. “They made all their territory in the wide channels early on and we got caught defending a little bit narrow two or three times in the first fifteen minutes. They didn’t really get us through the centre, it was around the edges. I thought they missed Michael Wells and they missed Peter Schuster out wide as well.”
That is a sore point in itself for Simon Cron, the Norths head coach shorn of three potential contributors in Wells, Schuster and Sam Myers on the day, due to their Aussie Sevens commitments. But while he may well be on the phone to the ARU this week to broker the release of said players for this Saturday, he had no complaints about the final result, and was left ruing an ineffective attacking display.
“The scoreline definitely flattered us,” he said. “We’ve got a number of attacking patterns we can play and we went pretty basic for the first twenty minutes just to try and exhaust them a little bit but we didn’t really open up holes. We weren’t direct enough around our ten, we started shifting it outside of him instead of playing it to the line. We should have been taking it to the line a lot more than we were and it made us easier to defend against.
“Our midfield seems to have changed fifty-two times this year, which has been a combination of things – injury obviously but also just us looking to find that right combination. I thought Jordy Heyer at thirteen was really direct in that last twenty minutes, which was a positive and allowed our forwards to get some purchase off him. But before that we were really predictable in our backs, even the moves we ran. We’ve got two of the most dangerous wingers in the comp and they didn’t touch the ball. All year we’ve been five percent off brilliance but not today.”
He was also frustrated at the continuation of a worrying trend.
“What I would have liked to see from us today was no unforced errors and then, ideally, we can start to play,” he said. “But we threw an intercept try in the first half, we got a charge down in the second half and another try under the posts – there’s fourteen points – and we had another one go right over the top of the lineout and they go in again so, once again – and I hate to say it – it’s individual unforced errors by us that seems to culminate in pressure. It’s the same players each week that are playing pretty good rugby, we just need the guys around them to do the same.
“Consistency for us is limiting or producing no unforced errors so that we don’t culminate pressure on ourselves. It can be something as simple as an exit or a penalty and if we don’t kick it out, the pressure starts to build,” he continued. “Last week against Gordon, the boys stayed in the fight and came through and today, with those two tries at the end, they still stayed in the fight. So I think we’ve got what it takes in that area but we just need to make sure that we stick to doing our job first and foremost. Three errors, three tries and all of a sudden, we’re chasing the game.”
A dearth of front rowers at Norths led to the surprise appearance of former hooker Scott Podmore, plucked from retirement and straight into 1st Grade as incumbent Will Weeks and his 2nd Grade back-up have both suffered recent injuries. While Podmore performed admirably given the lack of preparation, the reshuffle came at an obvious cost, that lack of combinations against a well-ordered Manly pack gifting the hosts a significant set-piece platform across the 80 minutes.
“The scrum was a real weapon for them today,” conceded Cron. “Will Weeks snapped his ankle last week and his replacement has a damaged nerve in his neck. Lawrence Hunting had to fly overseas for a family illness on Tuesday so there’s our tighthead gone and depth-wise, those are the positions we need to improve on. Tyron Rota played tighthead but he’s actually a loosehead and he’s also got a sublux of his right wrist but I’m making him play!” he joked.
With three rounds remaining, Norths’ ability to put a competitive side out on the paddock would appear to be the deciding factor in their finals chances.
“We’ve got to win the next three,” says Cron. “I know we’ve got West Harbour, Easts and Sydney University in the run-in – West Harbour are an improving team, Easts we should be ok and that may leave a shoot-out with Uni in the last match. If we can fill a couple of those holes and improve our depth in the next week – somehow! – then we’re a chance.”
For Manly, it’s a case of keep on keeping on and see where it takes them. With Warringah, Gordon and Randwick to come, there are no givens, but Damien Cummins admits that, although it would not be the end of the world, not finishing as Minor Premiers given the season they’ve had, would be a disappointment.
“The Rats are probably the form team at the moment, they’re really on a roll; Gordon are a strange team for us to play, they never seem to go away and Randwick could potentially be playing for a top four, five or six spot so they’re all tough games in their own way. While finishing Minor Premiers is a good reflection of the season, it isn’t the most important thing but we’ve put ourselves in a position to be there so it would be good to see it through.”
MANLY 39 (John Fakai 2, Richard Hooper, Sam Lane, Alex Northam, Dane Maraki tries; Reece Hodge 3 cons, pen) defeated NORTHERN SUBURBS 24 (Tyron Rota, Jordan Heyer-Wright, Ben Matwijow tries; Mitch Walton 3 cons, pen)
Manly: 1. Dane Maraki; 2. Vance Elliott; 3. Jerome Vaai; 4. Ed Gower; 5. Cadeyrn Neville; 6. Ryan Melrose; 7. Mitch Daniel; 8. Dan Alley; 9. Matt Lucas; 10. Sam Lane; 11. Alex Northam; 12. John Fakai; 13. Denis Pili-Gaitau; 14. Richard Hooper; 15. Reece Hodge – Replacements: Mitch Lewis; James Hilterbrand; Vinnie Baranyi; Ethan Uili; Tim Donlan; Samuel Vaevae; Shaun Treweek
Northern Suburbs: 1. Nick Curtis; 2. Scott Podmore; 3. Tyron Rota; 4. James Brown; 5. Michael O’Hea; 6. Ben Matwijow; 7. Will Miller; 8. Hugh Sinclair; 9. Tim Duchesne; 10. Mitch Walton; Lochie Creagh; Lachlan Porteous; Jordan Heyer-Wright; Richie Woolf; John Porch – Replacements: Kevin McNamara; Sam Kitchen; Josh Kay; James Wivell
Original version published by Rugby News on: July 8th, 2015