What they said…Preliminary Final – Warringah v Manly
WARRINGAH 27 (Penalty Try, Josh Holmes 2 tries; Myles Dorrian 2 cons, 2 pens) defeated MANLY 17 (James Hilterbrand tries; Sam Lane 4 pens) HT 17-9
Somewhere in the region of 10,000 hardy souls braved the Arctic-like chill blowing in from the Tasman last Saturday, to witness the peninsular derby Part Three, as club rugby’s biggest rivalry got to play out on it’s biggest stage so far. Interestingly choosing to play into the wind, an early try to Josh Holmes had the Rats in the ascendancy and they enjoyed most of the first half’s better chances, only for Sam Lane’s reliable left boot to keep the Marlins in touch at 10-9. But another from the irrepressible Holmes just before half-time was a savage blow that the visitors never really recovered from, and despite throwing the kitchen sink at Warringah in the second stanza, and crossing for a terrific try themselves from James Hilterbrand, their gallant fightback was ultimately a bridge too far, and it was the Rats who could celebrate their first final appearance in 12 years. Behind the Ruck got the post-match reaction from both camps…
Darren Coleman (Warringah head coach):
“It was an interesting strategy chat around whether we would go with or against the wind if we won the toss. I’ve always been a bit of a believer that if you can go against it in the first half and then do your best to stay in it and scramble and have a clear strategy, then you should turn around with a bit more confidence, and the first half was what set us up for the win. I’d have taken to be within five at half-time because I thought that was a genuine 10-point wind, so to go in at half-time 17-9 up was very pleasing.
“We definitely tweaked a few things because of the weather that, not so much upset us, but upset our plan around lineout and attack off lineout, and how much we wanted to run versus kick. We won the toss, and we had a pretty clear plan of how to play against it, and we got good pay out of that. We either controlled the ball or kicked up those high ones that blew back to us, and our second try was on the back of those fifty-fifty balls that landed in our lap. From that side of it I was very pleased, and having guys like Myles [Dorrian], he’s a tactician and he knew what to do and when.
“Teams can get complacent with the wind and kick too much ball away, and probably my biggest criticism of our performance today was that I didn’t think we were as clinical in that second half to close the game out a bit better. I thought our option-taking for the most part was good, but we just had a few too many individual errors that stopped us from killing the game. But on the flip-side of that, our defence was what won it for us, and it’s what won us the last derby at Manly too. You can be less than perfect with the attacking side of your game, or strategically execution-wise, but if you defend with heart you can cover a lot of that up, and we did today. I thought we were incredibly physical in defence and we bashed them.
“They’re a bit of a bogey team for us in the scrum, they got us in the last game there and probably had a points decision against us in the first game down at Manly. But I think overall, we probably got the better of them today. They’re down a few personnel and I thought a bit of a swing there was when we brought on Manessah [Alaga] and Holmesy [Luke Holmes], and we got a penalty try right after that. Manessah is a great last 20-minute scrummager, he’s a big unit and sometimes you’ve just got to change the picture for the ref because they look at certain guys and form opinions about what they are or aren’t doing.
“I didn’t think we’d stuff it up at the end but I thought we made it hard for ourselves. You’d prefer to be hanging on for grim death to defend a lead as opposed to chasing one, because there’s a lot of variables that can come into play. I thought our biggest enemy in the second half was going to be complacency – and our execution did hurt us a bit – but there was no complacency and we tackled right to the end. A perfect indication was that last play of the game. If they’d scored there it may have changed the result, but the boys dug in and bumped them into touch. Full credit to Manly, they fought right to the end and they showed a lot of character.
“I guess I’m not as happy as I was last week but I think your attentions turn to the grand final pretty quickly. I lost a GF less than eight months ago with the Eagles in the NRC, so I said to the boys that you’re better off not being in one than losing one I reckon. There were obviously some scenes of elation post-whistle, but a bit of that was in and around the crowd, and in the shed afterwards everyone was pretty focused as to what we’ve got to do now.
“I wouldn’t imagine next week will be as emotional as this week, just with the crowd and everyone talking up what a big day it was. We haven’t changed anything in play-offs and our week will be the same. I think you’ve just got to stick to what you’ve been doing, enjoy the week, prep as you should and not over-train them. You don’t want to be changing too much now, what has worked for 20 rounds have to be the key principles once again.”
Brian Melrose (Manly head coach):
“The Rats’ start was fantastic against the breeze because it was a significant factor on the day, so to be leading at half-time they would have been cock-a-hoop with their situation. We obviously tried to lift and I think we threw everything we could, but at the end of the day, we didn’t quite have the bullets to be able to get there. Credit to the Rats, they’re in a good vein of form, they’ve got their squad on the field and they’re playing very well.
“They did a really good job in the first half, we just didn’t have enough ball and the try before half-time was a killer. But I can’t take anything away from my own boys, I thought in the second half we did everything we could to stay in the fight. The scoreline was roughly fair, I mean, a try here or there could have made a difference and I think it’s comical that we don’t have a TMO for such big decisions. It seemed like we’d gone over there at the end and that might have given us a late chance but it’s all hearsay now.
“I was down there and I sort of felt Mitch Lewis scored, and as I said, I think that at this level of football, and when it’s on television, it’s odd that we don’t have a third party to ascertain that. We played Southern Districts recently and they scored two tries in the last couple of minutes so if we score there then anything’s possible. I’m not sitting here saying ‘We lost the game because of…’ but we possibly may have had a chance.
“There’s always things that you can do differently, but the bottom line is that all you can do is roll with things as they present. A month ago, things were presenting in a certain way and a few weeks later, stuff happens. You’re playing to get into a grand final, and you’re playing without the consistent balance of individuals that had us in a great position. We probably just couldn’t rearrange our style quickly enough.
“There’s no secret that we play the game in a certain way, we’re quite creative, and the loss of guys like Matty [Lucas], Junior [Palau] and Harry [Bergelin] meant that our ability to link and create wasn’t quite there. We were able to adjust our game after losing Matty five or six weeks ago, and Tim Donlan gave us some tremendous support play and speed of movement but ultimately, we just weren’t quite good enough. I’m a fairly realistic person and I don’t take anything away from the teams that are in the grand final, but I think if you asked the other teams they would have been a little relieved to see our squad erode in numbers toward the end.
“Once we won the Minor Premiership we had some busted people, we gave a few guys a rest and maybe attitudinally, we dropped off the perch in a couple of games. To be fair, the game against West Harbour we were certainly trying hard, and last week against Eastwood we got ambushed in the first 20 minutes and in retrospect, lost our advantage. Unfortunately four of our forwards got busted – that’s life. But that was a game where we were up for it and lost.
“I won’t accept that we choked this year, but I will accept that at times at the end, we didn’t play with the respect or attention to detail or quality that we had been able to a few weeks earlier. The reality is that in the most even competition in years, the boys did very, very well to win the Minor Premiership by a couple of games and then things faltered. But they’re just the cards that are dealt and we are responsible for our performances. We’ll just have to pick ourselves up and go again next year.”
Josh Holmes (Warringah scrumhalf):
“In the first half that wind was just horrendous. We decided to go against it and defend our backsides off and we went in with a 17-9 lead. We sat in the changing-rooms and just said ‘This wind won’t win us the game, let’s be on it for the second half’ and it became more of a tussle and a slugfest. Over the years we’ve had that attacking flair but we’ve leaked a lot of points, so we’ve worked on that a lot this year. Maybe it took a few rounds to show that but we finished with the best defensive record in the comp, and that got us through again today. I felt confident that we weren’t going to let them in near the end, I just felt we had it.
“17-9 is a lot different to 10-9 and to have eight points up your sleeve means you can come back out and throw the ball a bit more freely because you’re two scores ahead – the coaches probably don’t think that way though! Any other team today and we probably run away with it like we did against Randwick, but it’s Manly playing the Rats and neither team wants to give up because we’re so close to each other and such rivals.
“I don’t think it felt like a derby to be honest. There was no banter or crap talk during the week, it was more just a focus on how big an occasion it was. We were both looking to book a spot in the GF and it was just game-face time, the rivalry itself brought everyone here. It is also a credit to both clubs and I take my hat off to Manly, they’re a strong club, they played in the grand final two years ago and they won the Minor Premiership this year, and I think it just goes to show how strong rugby is on the northern beaches right now.
“I was never a part of the previous Warringah sides that were really strong with Brett Sheehan, Beau Robinson and Sam Harris. I came in at the start of a rebuild and it’s taken time but this is the best Shute Shield team I’ve been a part of. Myself, Feltch [Dave Feltscheer], Hamo [Hamish Angus] and Wardy [Sam Ward] arrived at the club nine years ago, and we were talking about when Parramatta came up here and Tatafu Polota-Nau hadn’t cut his hair for a year until Parra won again and they came and dished us up in front of about two people on the hill. And the week after we’re trying to beat Penrith to avoid dropping to last in the comp! You look at the crowd and what the club is doing now, and it’s just amazing to be a part of.
“Last year, we had that feeling in the semis that we were there but maybe not genuine contenders. We’d got beaten by Norths and then faced Uni, and you don’t want to doubt yourself but I think we did a bit, and we got pumped. But this year is so different with the coaches, the team and the players. This community and how the club has reacted this year and got behind the boys with what has gone on has been amazing, and I think that’s showing. Today they all turned up and you can see how much it means to them – we had nearly 1,000 people running on the field to congratulate us – and it’s something special and gives you goosebumps.
“I’m pretty speechless right now to be in the GF but I think only half the work is done – I want to win the comp. It’s taken me 30 years to get to a grand final so we don’t just want to turn up and play. We sat in the changing room just now and had a quiet word about how winning today is not the bees-knees, it’s a stepping stone. It’s an unbelievable achievement to make the grand final, but there is something still left for us to do and that’s win one more game. The boys know that and we can’t wait.”