Grand Final Key Match-Up – Cameron Clark vs Seb Wileman

In his first full season of 15-a-side rugby since returning from his successful Aussie Sevens exploits, Cameron Clark has shown just why the Waratahs were so keen to lure him back to the full format of the game. His searing pace, defensive nous and elusive ball running skills saw the 24-year-old nail down a starting spot for his state, before returning to his beloved Shoremen to play a leading role in helping them to a second successive title decider.

For Seb Wileman, 2017 is proving to be a breakout year with every fresh performance. The fellow 24-year-old has been in and around the Rats set-up for a while now, but off the back of a stint with the Sydney Rays in last season’s NRC, the strapping centre has kicked on with his club side this year, producing arguably his career-best form in recent weeks on the road to the finals.

Behind the Ruck got the views of both centres and their respective head coaches, ahead of what looms as a thrilling midfield contest between two players who actually know each other rather well…

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ON THE SEASON SO FAR:

Seb Wileman:

“I think our progress this year is a collection of a lot of things. DC [Darren Coleman] has been instrumental in giving us more structure and cohesiveness, without taking away our offensive flare and ability to play off the cuff, and guys like Turtle [Damien Cummins] and Ed Doyle have helped us refine our skills. Dan Tilley, our S&C, has also done an amazing job at keeping everyone up to scratch physically, however all of these things would count for nothing without our collective desire to win.

“I think that our leadership group, guys like the Holmes brothers, Hamish Angus, Feltch [Dave Feltscheer] and Sam Ward, have been ready to win for a long time, and their hunger is contagious to the guys around them. More recently, that desire was given an extra dimension. When we lost Lachie Ward, it forced a lot of the guys to ask questions about why we play footy, and what it means to us. I believe we carry him with us when we run on the field as a result of that.”

Cameron Clark:

“I was obviously very happy to get a few starts with the Waratahs this year after joining them late last year. It was a very disappointing year with our results on the field, but I definitely learnt a lot and have looked to make improvements since being back with Norths for the back end of this season.

“It’s very exciting to be playing with Norths consistently this year after only playing a handful of games with them in the last five years. I’ve known some of the boys in the side for a long time, so it will be awesome to run out there with them this weekend. It’s a great team and I’ve been really lucky to be a part of this group.”

Cam Clark_Norths v Eastwood_SF_2017_CC

Clark races away against Eastwood last week – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

ON EACH OTHER:

 Cameron Clark:

“Seb and I actually played together from under 9’s through to under 16’s, he was on the wing or in the centres and I was mostly at fullback. His dad Bill was my first rugby coach and helped develop my game a lot! We won a lot of Premierships together over the years, so it will be a bit different for us with only one taking away the trophy this weekend.

“The round 18 game at North Sydney Oval was the first time I’ve had to mark him directly. He’s been going really well for the Rats, offers a lot in both attack and defence, and adds a lot to the exciting outside backs from Warringah. I always enjoy playing against in-form opposition, and he’s proven to be one of the best centres in the Shute Shield this year, so it will be a big challenge on the weekend.”

Seb Wileman:

“Yeah, we both played junior footy with the Wahroonga Tigers and in the same Gordon rep team, so we saw a lot of each other in the early stages of our rugby career. Back then we had a red hot team, and won a few junior Premierships and state championships together, so plenty of fond memories from those days.

“I think he is a really well-rounded player and quite suited to the 13 jersey. A lot of people say that outside centre is the hardest position to defend at, and Cam is a great defender, with a good work rate and the ability to unlock space for the people around him. It’s no surprise he’s adapted so well in such a short period of time. To be the best you have to beat the best, and Cam has had a really good year with the Tahs. I really enjoy the challenge, and fortunately this competition has a wealth of talented players who push each other to improve week-in, week-out.”

Seb Wileman_Warringah v Manly_SF_2017_KW

Wileman wrapped up by Marlins in the derby semi-final – Photo: Red Bandana / Karen Watson

ON THE GAME:

 Seb Wileman:

“So far it has been business as usual for me this week. I suppose the nerves will kick in on the day but it really just feels like another game at this point. I think it helps that we have just focused on the specific things we have to do in the game, and not really worried about the result as much.

“I think previous experience of a grand final can come into play a bit, particularly at the beginning of the game when everyone is still fresh and pumped full of adrenaline, because that’s when your cooler heads can really settle the nerves. That being said, I think we’ve had a lot of big games in the back end of the season, which have made us a bit more battle hardened. If you look at the derby last week, that sort of environment is really good preparation for a grand final.

“The even scorecard against Norths this year [Norths won 28-26 in round one and Warringah returned the favour in the last round of the regular season, 18-11] has given us a bit of confidence – the knowledge that we can beat them, without making us overconfident. I think since that game three weeks ago though, both teams have kicked up another gear, as was demonstrated by the scores in the Qualifying Finals, with both teams beating good opposition comfortably.

“I think both backlines are very closely matched in a lot of areas, however, I think we have a bit more size and aggression in our defence. The Norths backline has a lot of mobile, fast players who can shift the ball edge-to-edge, and step into playmaking roles. Hopefully that leads to an expansive, free flowing and fast-paced game, which I think is what rugby fans want to see.

“I think this battle will come down to the little things that often go unnoticed – how fast players get of the ground, how aggressively they clean out a ruck and how hard they chase down a line break. Both teams know how to play footy, it will just come down to who wants it more.”

Cameron Clark:

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in front of some big crowds on the Sevens circuit and in Super Rugby. There is a lot of external noise and talk around the week, which is exciting but the game doesn’t change. I will prepare the same and go about my game no different to any other week. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of team-mates this week that have been through this before, and know what to expect.

“I don’t think either team can take too much from either of the games between us during the season. It’s a grand final so we know we will have to execute at a really high level to give ourselves the best chance. Both teams like to use the ball so it will be interesting to see who gets on the front-foot, and I think both backlines can offer a lot. But nothing changes for us. We just need to execute and nail our processes, and that should put us in a good position at the end of the day.”

THE COACHES VIEW:

Darren Coleman:

“A potentially titanic battle. I think if you looked over our two games in the finals series so far, Seb has been our form player. His carry and his ability to beat a defender on the outside is second-to-none, and the defensive side of his game has really stepped up, and he’s not only making his tackles now, he’s a physical defender and a big body. He’s had some nibbles and some interest from Super teams earlier in the year, so this is a great opportunity for him to test himself against someone who was a regular Super Rugby player this year.”

Simon Cron:

“Two explosive athletes with slightly different tackle technique. Clarkie is a very good distributor and can open holes as well as shut teams down in defence. Seb is a strong carrier and adds a lot to his side.”

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