Nerveless Sinclair sees Norths home, and Manly out

Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

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Nine wins in a row had put the most improved team in the Intrust Super Shute Shield, Northern Suburbs, within touching distance of a Minor Premiership, let alone their first appearance in the finals since 2012.

Another victory over Manly on the last weekend of the regular season, and suitable results elsewhere would see them top the ladder. But it was a place in the first three and the home qualifying final that would come with that, that was the more likely – and no less laudable – holy grail for the Shoremen. Things were a lot simpler for the Marlins meanwhile. Win and they could look forward to the finals series. Lose, and they left themselves open for results elsewhere to consign them to an early exit.

It goes without saying then, that conceding a try directly from kick-off was not a part of the visitor’s plans. But when Angus Sinclair’s opening bomb landed between two of the Marlins’ catching pods and deflected into the path of Norths’ Lochie Creagh, the winger reacted smartly to dissect a couple more static blue jerseys with a grubber off his knee, before scooping up the bounce and holding off the attentions of Matt Lucas to ground a dramatic first five-pointer.

Sinclair’s conversion inflicted further damage, and it was perhaps no surprise that the Shoremen – dripping with confidence off the back of their winning run – settled into the game that much quicker. Their passes were sharp and they stuck, their clean-outs were swift and clinical, and their defensive linespeed frustrated a Manly side who were forced into an error on more than one occasion when trying to play too close to the gainline.

But for all their possession and ball retention, Norths couldn’t find another score until the start of the second quarter. Hooker Sam Kitchen brushed aside his counterpart James Hilterbrand, before using a supporting role from team mate James Brown to drive over the ubiquitous Lucas and claim the second try.

Sam Kitchen_Norths v Manly_2016_CC

Sam Kitchen shrugs off his opposite number on the way to the line – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

A shell-shocked Manly were given a lifeline when Norths skipper Will Miller was pinged for not rolling away, and Sam Lane stepped up to get his side on the board. But that was immediately cancelled out when an over zealous Lucas illegally upended a rampaging Nick Palmer, sensibly just the penalty deemed necessary by referee James Leckie, and Angus Sinclair restored the two-score advantage at 17-3.

In need of something tangible before the break, Manly bypassed their next 3pt opportunity for a kick to touch and a lineout just inside their opponents’ 22. Within striking distance for the first time in the match it was Lucas asking the questions, manoeuvring his forwards towards the line before a crisp pass found halves partner Lane, and the silky no.10 had the footwork to find a gap and stretch for the chalk.

With Manly having worked themselves back into contention from that early setback, Norths’ initial buoyancy was visibly wavering as the game became scrappy with half-time approaching. Both sides seemed keen to play it at the other end for a while in the hope of an opposition error, but neither of their kicking games were in tune with the accuracy required to apply pressure, and there were more than a few unattractive ping-pong exchanges as a result.

A late hit on Angus Sinclair by Harry Bergelin after the siren could, and perhaps should, have brought a yellow card. But after consulting with his assistants, ref Leckie was happy to go with a penalty only. However, with Sinclair still trying to locate all of his ribs, Irae Simone stepped up and pulled his kick wide of the posts to leave just a converted try between the teams at oranges.

The break served the home side well. Their fluidity and belief started to return after the restart, and they were given an early leg-up when the forwards stepped up to earn a scrum penalty against their significantly heavier opposition eight. However, Sinclair, maybe still feeling the effects of the earlier blow, couldn’t guide his kick through the uprights.

A double-team tackle from Hilterbrand and Ed Gower thwarted a second of the afternoon for Creagh in the 46th minute, as the young winger blazed a trail down the left flank. And when a further scrum penalty – kudos to loosehead Ezra Luxton on this occasion – went unpunished by another miscalculation from Sinclair’s boot, the frustration amongst the red and black faithful in the North Sydney Oval grandstands was palpable.

Those nine extra points off the boot would certainly have had Norths in a much rosier position than the 17-10 advantage they were left with, and you wondered if such profligacy would come back to haunt them, especially when the Marlins earned a shot at the posts from their next visit. However, the kicking yips were catching, Sam Lane’s long-range effort also falling just shy of its target.

But when the flyhalf was given another chance from in front a minute later after Richard Woolf was highlighted for holding on, the hoodoo off the tee was broken.

Matt Lucas_Manly v Norths_2016_AM

Matt Lucas leads the way for the Marlins – Photo: Adam Mac Photography

The hour mark ticked over with the visitors sensing a shift in momentum, Norths struggling to make much headway as Manly ramped up the aggression at the breakdown with Gower and Hayden Thompson-Stringer leading the charge. But having found it hard to concoct many clear-cut openings themselves, the manner of Manly’s next score was simplicity personified.

Lucas fed Lane on the openside from a scrum 15 metres in on the left, and the flyhalf shifted the pill at just the right moment to give Dennis Pili-Gaitau the space to draw and pass for BJ Hartmann, who in turn fed Richard Hooper for the corner to complete a rare first-phase try.

Lane couldn’t add the extras from out wide, but with time running out, the Marlins were in front for the first time in the match at 18-17. With news also filtering in from Coogee and Chatswood about bonus point wins for both Warringah and Eastwood, it was a position they absolutely had to maintain.

Their chances of doing so took a significant turn in their favour only a minute later, a disaster for the home side as a clearing kick from Simone was charged down by Lane, and the ball ricocheted straight into the hands of centre Nic Holton, who gleefully ran home. However, Lane’s second missed conversion left the door open for Norths, and we were in for a grandstand finish.

The Shoremen duly camped themselves inside the Manly 22, forcing a succession of penalties and opting to go for the knockout blow, but unable to breach the resolute wall of blue jerseys. As the siren sounded they were offered one final shot at glory, Manly’s season hanging in the balance.

A penalty kicked to touch was mustered in by the red and black jumpers, before captain Miller shifted it infield. But eight or so phases later and Norths were back in virtually the same position, Manly’s desperation offering no hint of an opening.

To the audible horror of everyone rooting for the home side, Angus Sinclair then grubbered ahead, straight towards a cluster of Marlins defenders. But just as it looked like Holton had garnered possession, and with it victory, the cavalry arrived in the shape of Simone and replacement Will Weeks to turn it back for Norths, who went again.

It was an incredible finale. Terrific ball retention and patience shown by the Shoremen, and magnificent defence from Manly, who were almost out on their feet. But after some three and a half minutes of drama, and somewhere in the region of 20 phases in total, flyhalf Sinclair pulled out the vital play, stepping his way through from five metres to stretch for the line, and leave a converted try to win the match.

Cramping up badly after his efforts, it wasn’t clear if he was even in a position to take the seismic kick that awaited. Given his travails off the boot across the 80 minutes, it would have been easy to pass on the baton – and pressure – to Simone. But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and after getting to his feet, dusting himself off, gingerly addressing the ball and taking a long, deep breath, he calmly stepped up and won the day.

Angus Sinclair 2_Norths v Manly_2016_CC

‘Over she goes’ – Angus Sinclair slots the match-winning conversion – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

Cue wild celebrations from his team mates as they ran en masse to celebrate with the match-winner. Ten wins in a row and a home preliminary final makes this Norths side a genuine force to be reckoned with in the finals.

Conversely, Manly fell to their knees in disbelief. The 2015 Minor Premiers were gone.

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NORTHERN SUBURBS 24 (Lochie Creagh, Sam Kitchen, Angus Sinclair tries; Angus Sinclair 3 cons, pen) defeated MANLY 23 (Sam Lane, Richard Hooper, Nic Holton tries; Sam Lane con, 2 pens) HT 17-10 at North Sydney Oval

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For post-match reaction from Simon Cron, Damien Cummins, and Angus Sinclair, check out The Wash-Up

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Northern Suburbs: 1. Ezra Luxton; 2. Sam Kitchen; 3. Lawrance Hunting; 4. Nick Palmer; 5. Ben Matwijow; 6. James Brown; 7. Will Miller (c); 8. Hugh Sinclair; 9. Mitch Magrath; 10. Angus Sinclair; 11. Lochie Creagh; 12. Irae Simone; 13. Jordan Heyer; 14. Richie Woolf; 15. Harry Burey – Replacements: Connor Vest; Harry Emery

Manly: 1. Mitch Lewis; 2. James Hilterbrand; 3. Alex Westgarth; 4. Adrian Hall; 5. Ed Gower; 6. Hayden Thompson-Stringer; 7. Harry Bergelin; 8. Junior Palau; 9. Matt Lucas; 10. Sam Lane; 11. Josh Turner; 12. Nic Holton; 13. Dennis Pili-Gaitau; 14. Richard Hooper; 15. BJ Hartmann – Replacements: Vance Elliott; Daniel Alley

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First published by Rugby News on July 18th, 2016

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