What they said…Semi-Final – Northern Suburbs v Eastwood
NORTHERN SUBURBS 42 (Richard Woolf 2, Lochie Creagh 2, Cameron Clark tries; Angus Sinclair 4 cons, 3 pens) defeated EASTWOOD 32 (Rob Lagudi, Zac Mackay, Damien Fitzpatrick, Blake Sutton tries; Tom Hill 3 cons, 2 pens) HT 34-17
Having stumbled their way through the season at times, reigning Premiers Norths came into the semis off the back of an impressive defeat of Souths the previous week, a performance that sent a message out to the rest of the comp that they weren’t about to let their title go without one heck of a fight. By the same token, an Eastwood side that only just scraped into the finals on points differential, pulled one out of the fire against Minor Premiers Manly in their Qualifying Final, and came into this clash full of renewed confidence. But finding themselves down 28-3 after just 25 minutes wasn’t in the script, the Shoremen squeezing every ounce of class from their playbook to steal a march on the Woodies, before opening the door again with a couple of easy scores by their standards. The Woodies kicked again after half-time, no doubt buoyed by the injury-enforced removal of Norths’ talismanic skipper Will Miller, and with 10 minutes remaining, they had worked their way back into it at 39-32. But a late penalty from Angus Sinclair sealed the deal for the Premiers, who get to return to North Sydney Oval this Saturday for a chance to go back-to-back on their own turf. Behind the Ruck got the post-match reaction from both camps…
Simon Cron (Northern Suburbs head coach):
“You can never start too well, that’s crazy, I think we just executed all our structures and patterns really well and had good ruck speed and a couple of other key things, so that got us up. But then their two tries in the first half were from our own system errors – one person not doing their role and they went through. So it was a bit disappointing to go into half-time, knowing we probably could have scored again, but having leaked those tries. I think we worked relatively hard for our tries but we gave them theirs too easily.
“I thought our defence in the first half was really solid apart from two breaches, which were individual things. But as a team, I thought we were outstanding, they didn’t go anywhere. Our attack was really good in the first half too, but in the second half instead of playing, we started to wait a little bit and you can’t wait, you have to play.
“Will [Miller] just had a wee tweak in his hammy so we pulled him as a precaution, but we’ve got enough guys who do go on the ball, it was just a case of our leaders in that game needing to take over, and they did that. But what we weren’t doing was sticking to our attacking structures and all it takes is one or two guys to try to do something crazy like a one-off runner from a ruck and then we pass the ball forward or we drop it. It’s about creating space and then we can attack that space by using what we see in front of us. But instead of creating space we were trying to punch holes in it individually and that’s not us, that’s not how we play.
“Our exits were poor in that second half as well and we put pressure on ourselves. We had a couple of moves set up that we didn’t use that we should have on those exit plays, because we’d identified some weaknesses in their ‘d’ and instead we played passively and put pressure on ourselves. Then we make a line break and put it down in the corner, shifted the space and found space and bang – got a try in the corner. So that was good. But from my point of view, we should have shut that door a long time ago.
“It’s just another game of rugby for us next week, and it’s a big one. It’s what you play all year for, its what you started for last September and I’m sure both teams will approach it from different directions and different angles. I don’t want to lose at anything, and that doesn’t change whether I’m finishing the season or starting the season. So it doesn’t matter what part of the season it is, it’s about us and what we do, and we’ve got to do things that we did today better next week, to put ourselves in a position to win it. We’ve only got a ticket to the game now, nothing else.”
Stu Woodhouse (Eastwood head coach):
“Even at half-time there was confidence, but then a couple of lucky bounces went Norths way, and you make your own luck with the pressure and they’re very good at pressuring kicks. There was some wind out there, it wasn’t massive but I think psychologically that can change things, and we spoke about Norths, that they do have some dead patches in their game, and they did at our place when they flattened out, we attacked, and all of a sudden they struggled. But there is enough quality in their team that they will take their chance if they are given a small opportunity, and they did that in the second half when they went over in the corner and that was a killer.
“Them not having [Will] Miller in the second half was definitely a positive for us, but we had some plans around the fact that they had Wellsy [Michael Wells] out in the lineout to cope with Tommy Hill, and we found a little space through that and Zac Mackay scored. So I’m not sure, maybe psychologically it had an effect for them, but we didn’t worry about whether he was on or off the field, and we didn’t even send a message out there about it. I still think we did enough in the game, it was just little things that went against us. Even at the end there we were almost through again but full credit to Norths, they hung on.
“I’m feeling better today than I did last year when we lost to Uni in the finals. I know it’s a loss but from a coaching point of view, I want to see a happy camp, and if I stood here and the camp weren’t happy and you feel like you’ve lost the dressing room, that’s when I’d be upset. But despite the fact we were indifferent, I still feel the group had my respect and I had theirs but sometimes, you just need something to go your way.
“It was tough in the latter part of the season because we were chasing to make the semis and I think that pressure to make it was frustrating for the group. We changed up our attack-structure when we lost Jai [Ayoub], and we sort of fumbled about trying to work out what could work best for us. Blake Sutton – who is generally a 12 but can play 10 – was injured through that period of transition and we had to throw young Jackson Bird in there a bit earlier than we would have liked. To be fair, he did really well and he’s a kid that is still learning who is clearly a very good fullback, but we made the late change to Blake and once we understood where we were going and had a bit of clarity around what we were trying to do, it came through.
“We all knew that reaching the semis was a reset button, and there is enough quality in our group that once you get to the semis, there’s no team we fear. So overall, I’m disappointed that we’re not there at the end but pleased with a lot of things across the season. We’ve got guys like Matty Gonzalez thinking about his game, whereas before he was just told what to do, and we’ve got players formulating game plans, something they weren’t doing before, so there are some silver linings there. They’re things that you can’t necessarily see from the stands, but you can see as a coach because you’re working with them every week and seeing that growth, and that’s what we’re trying to do, make players better. For me, whatever happens in terms of where we go as a group, or whether the coaching staff stays the same or whatever, the club is still strong, and that’s the main thing.”
Hugh Sinclair (Northern Suburbs loose forward and vice-captain):
“Our ruckspeed and catch-pass was quite simple in that opening half hour and it was beautiful to watch, especially those first four tries. But yeah, the two soft tries they got before half-time, it didn’t really feel like they earned them, they just came and got them quite easily, and there were a few role clarity issues there, which is a simple fix. They probably came back out with a bit of momentum off the back of that, started firing and fed off our mistakes.
“It wasn’t the greatest of second halves. It doesn’t help when your skipper goes off but we’ve got the players to be able to play for that 40 minutes without him. Credit to Eastwood, they played well, they got a roll on and fed off our mistakes and when you’ve got someone like Damien Fitzpatrick coming off the bench it’s pretty handy because he’s a quality player, and to be able to put Hugh Roach at 6 or 7 is obviously an asset. They were quality in that second half but we made some errors, which were uncharacteristic but will be good for a few of the guys to learn from. But we came away with the result.
“There were just a few little errors in there like a forward pass and a charge down, that led to points, and we probably weren’t on our defensive breakdown quite as hard without Will in that second half. We still have guys that go on the ball like Wellsy, who is a quality player, but Will is that genuine fetcher number seven and they got a bit more ruckspeed, played some footy and came away with some points. That second try from Lochie [Creagh] was crucial because we had to score again in that half as we knew Eastwood were coming.
“It’s been a lot different route to the final this year. We started the season quite well, had a huge mid-season slump in the middle of the year, managed to correct ourselves a little bit towards the back end and get into the finals. We picked up a hell of a lot of bonus points in all those losses, which probably got us into the finals to be honest, so it’s been a bit of a bumpy road. But it’s finals footy and all you’ve got to do is win.
“It’s a new week, there’s lots of different things going on social media, a lot of people to deal with in the background with interviews and so on, so there’s a lot more buzz around it. Game day is different as well, you might not have the same routine as normal, which throws things out a bit. It was a pretty good crowd today but you’d like to think that next week there will be more than twice as many here, so it will be a great day, it will be loud and the Rats will be a great challenge. Hopefully we get some good weather and a good game of rugby, and we’ve got that experience to pull through.”