What they said… Qualifying Final: Souths v Norths
NORTHERN SUBURBS 47 (Richard Woolf 2, Lochie Creagh, Sam Kitchen, Cameron Clark, Gary Bautz, Harry Burey tries; Angus Sinclair 6 cons) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 18 (Luke Smart, Alex Gibbon tries; Rohan Saifoloi con, 2 pens) HT 14-6
It was a case of déjà vu down at Forshaw Park last Sunday. A year on from their semi-final triumph against the same opposition on the same ground, Northern Suburbs returned to end Southern Districts’ season yet again, only one round earlier, with a fairly dominant and clinical display off the back of a stellar defensive effort. Despite winning nine in a row coming into the game, Souths were a touch nervy in the opening half, and the Shoremen didn’t need a second invitation to take advantage and build a 14-6 lead by the break. A superb Richard Woolf try just after half-time opened up a gap that never looked like being reeled in, and the scoreboard blew out from there as the Rebels chanced their arm in desperation and were ruthlessly picked off. Behind the Ruck got the post-match reaction from both camps…
Simon Cron (Northern Suburbs head coach):
“It was ok, a good defensive performance with good pressure, but our attack wasn’t good at all and our set-piece was poor. Our goal line defence was really good, and we’d worked a bit on that because we know how Souths attack near the try line. It’s an area that we haven’t been as good at as we should have been, and I thought the boys did a pretty good job at stopping them. But I thought the first half against Eastwood and the first half against Parramatta recently, were two really good performances, and much better in terms of both attack and defence.
“We’ve got some real role clarity around some of the things we do, including defence, just to make sure that our shape is right. What that does is give each other the confidence to get the linespeed that we push for, and we did a lot work around the tackle-zone too, because our tackles were really poor against the Rats last week. But that’s what I expect from the boys, they should be confident in each other’s play and sometimes it is just a case of walking them through stuff again so that we’re nice and clear and can do it fast.
“I thought our transition speed was really quick, which was good, we got good linespeed and we knew who we were supposed to be tackling in each zone, so we were able to do it effectively and quite aggressively. We attacked the breakdown quite well too, and that created pressure for them, and with the loss of Dewet Roos as both a leader and a halfback, and then his replacement, we put some pressure on the guy they had in there today through some things we picked up around the way they play, and that allowed us to get a couple of tries off the back of that pressure.
“One of the things that annoyed me the week before was that we had opportunities to go on the ball and we didn’t, and we actually turned over a lot of pill ourselves against the Rats, just because we got a bit lazy, and rather than cleaning the breakdown out we were spreading. So all our on-ballers had a big week of training because we knew Souths would leave daylight, and [Will] Miller was outstanding, ‘Wellsy’ [Michael Wells] got a very important turnover and a couple of other guys got on it too, so it was good.
“In the second half, with that wind on the left hand side coming in it holds the ball up a little bit better, so it gave us more time to get underneath it. It wasn’t really a case of them being poor under the high ball, it was more a case of us being more aggressive and giving ourselves the options. In the first half we did it twice, but the kicks were too far and weren’t contestable, so we didn’t get any pay from them and just gave the ball back to Souths. So it’s just a case of timing and executing the kick properly, and the thing about ‘Woolfie’ [Richard Woolf] is that he’s a ridiculously good taker of the ball – almost like an AFL player because he goes up with two hands, not one – and he had the ability to grab that ball on the run and he was away.
““It’s knockout footy, and all we’ve done is buy ourselves another week of playing. There’s a lot of things to improve on and we’re going to have to be better next weekend. We need to work on our scrums, there’s no doubt about that, and Eastwood are strong there, but there’s some pretty easy fixes for us. We’re a different team to this time last year. We’ve got different players in different positions, so we’ve got to be pretty clear on our roles this weekend and how we execute them, otherwise we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.”
Matt Barr (Southern Districts head coach):
“You can go into the finals with momentum and confidence but you have to start again, it’s finals footy, it’s a different beast and we’ve spoken about that. But in the first half, we were a little bit nervous and that showed in a lot of our execution, and in the things we tried to do. It was still only 14-6 at the break, we were still in it, and we probably should have taken points just before half-time, so it was pretty positive. We spoke about the fact that we hadn’t played real well and that a few things weren’t going our way but that we could turn that around.
“Then we had another opportunity after half-time to build some pressure and points and it didn’t turn out that way, and unfortunately, a few things like not putting a kick out to touch and they score off that, then they score off the restart with a kick that went through, and then there were charge downs – it was just one of those days that went against us. But full credit to Norths, they are a good side who stepped up today, took their opportunities and put themselves in a good position for next week. That was one of their best games of the season and for us, besides a few games early in the year, one of our worst.
“The breakdown was an area that they put us under a lot of pressure, and got away with a bit, which was frustrating. High balls are something we’ve used to good effect recently, Eastwood used it yesterday against Manly and got good pay, and it was clearly a deliberate tactic for Norths today and they got a lot out of it. It’s been an aspect of our game that we’ve used with a fair bit of success, today not so much, and the opposition used it against us to great effect.
“Six beats one and five beats two – I said all along that it was going to be a tough finals series because on any given day, there’s not a lot between the top six. It’s disappointing but that’s footy, we’ve just got to continue to learn from these opportunities and big games. I still think as a side that we’re taking big strides forward, it’s just that next big leap we have to make.
“There’s lots to be proud of. We just went nine straight before today, and I don’t think anyone in the history of the club has done that before, and we showed a lot of character and a lot of grit on that run. A lot of those wins were games where we got out to a good lead and then fought hard to hold on, or sometimes we were behind and had to work really hard to get ourselves back into games and come over the top, like last week against Randwick. So there’s a lot of spirit and a lot of talent in the group, I just think that in the big moments today, we got outplayed. We just weren’t good enough on the day.”
Will Miller (Northern Suburbs captain):
“We put a lot of pressure on and probably didn’t play as much pattern as we wanted, but that pressure was what was important and allowed us to counter off the back of it. There were a lot of tries against the play but they were off the back of our hard work to put them in those positions, and the pressure we applied so that we could get those opportunities. Woolfie [Richard Woolf] had a bit of a blinder. Under the high ball he is something else, and it was nice to see him back with his wheels on again!
“Souths back themselves to run over you. They’re a big team that try to bash you, and they did that the last time we played them down here, and that’s why we lost that day. But today, everyone fronted up, chopped enough in the tackle, and got in their faces enough and put the pressure on so that they didn’t get enough quick ball for their backs, and they have one of the best backlines in the competition.
“That period before half-time was probably the biggest part of the game, because we held them off for so long and if they score that try [disallowed for a forward pass] it could have been a real game-changer. But luckily, we did hold on and force the mistake and it worked in our favour. We’ve probably only had a handful of games where we’ve worked that hard for the whole 80 minutes. It was a good game and a tough game, so it’s a good one to have under our belts.
“Anything can happen in finals footy, and we wanted it to be a sudden death game today, rather than them getting a second chance, because it made it all the more intense. I was treating this as a grand final because they were 9-0, and obviously the team to beat. We stood up to that, and now we’ve got to do the same next week and see what happens from there. There are still lots of things to improve on but it was a good start to the finals, and now we’ve got another week ahead of us.
“We’ve just got to take care of the next game now, we can’t worry about anything past that. I don’t think it matters next week who’s beaten who, or where we finished, that’s just the game we’ve got to play and they’re going to be firing coming into it. Eastwood won it two years in a row in 2014/15, so they’re a great team as well and it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.”