JR Henderson Shield Final: Determined Rats down Marlins in style
Photo: J.B Photography
Warringah kicked off a day of grand final celebrations on the northern beaches last weekend, with a thumping 41-17 win over arch-rivals Manly to lift the JR Henderson Shield, and make up in some way for defeat at the same stage this time last season. The Marlins had claimed bragging rights in both meetings between the two sides in the regular season, but the Rats saved their very best ’til last to romp home with a five tries to two victory.
They got into their work early, attacking from the off and scoring before Manly had even managed a single pass. Profiting from a spilt kick-off, the Rats hammered the Marlins line for nine phases, and playing with a penalty advantage, they shifted it wide for winger Johnny Loseli to go over after just two minutes. And in a signal that his kicking radar would be very much on song for the entire contest, fullback Louis Anderson added the extras with a superb sideline conversion.
Manly put together some decent stuff of their own after the restart, and spent the next five minutes trying to get some pay in the opposition half, and an immediate riposte. But Warringah met every surge with a ferocious hit and plenty of gusto at the breakdown, and when a snipe from openside Tim Crowyn had the Rats back on the edge of the Marlins’ 22, skipper Jack Slack-Smith didn’t hesitate to point to the posts after an offside, and Anderson duly obliged.
10 minutes gone and 10-0 down, Manly had barely troubled the Warringah red zone, but from their first real foray they came away with what ended up as a fairly easy five pointer from a defensive perspective, but was some team try in it’s construction. Teasing the Rats defence from one flank to another, they held the ball for a full two and a half minutes and 17 phases, before a couple of direct runs got them within range and the Rats line parted like the Red Sea for centre Peter Squires to dummy and race home. Skipper Ben Rubio added the extras.
But the impressive score didn’t rattle the Rats, who soon headed upfield and off the back of a couple of damaging runs from no.8 Mark Jackson in particular, got within range and were awarded a gift 3pts from in front. However, scrumhalf Callum Reid sensed that more was on offer, and after his quick tap and dart at the line had been foiled by a host of blue jerseys, outside centre Jordan Fowles stepped in to scoop up, dummy and power home.
Fowles was clearly in the mood now, and from the restart he ran it back with interest to get his side on the front-foot once again. Another breakdown penalty allowed Louis Anderson to slot his fourth successful kick for a 20-7 lead, and the Rats were ticking along at a point-a-minute.
It was all Warringah now, a wave of green and white hurling itself at the Manly line, with the dancing feet of fullback Anderson, and the sheer power of hooker Roy Vucago very much to the fore. And as the North Sydney Oval clock ticked over 27 minutes, they went in again, Finlay Hillicks providing the last pass for the predatory Jordan Fowles to claim his second, and Anderson accurate off the boot from just inside the touchline, and with the minimum of fuss.
But after half an hour where pretty much everything had gone against them, Manly were offered a lifeline. A lifting tackle from Warringah openside Crowyn was deemed worthy of a red card, skipper Rubio slotted three from in front, and the boys from the Village Green were presented with 40 minutes and an extra man with which to turn the final around.
However, instead of going into preservation mode, the Rats kicked again, and with a minute left of the opening stanza, the ubiquitous Anderson put inside centre Harry Suters through a hole, and away to the line to rubber stamp their first half dominance.
Already staring down the barrel, what the Marlins didn’t need was any reason to give the Rats an easier run to the finish than the scoreline seemed to provide them. So a penny for the thoughts of head coach Zak Beer then, when replacement flanker Liam Ryan, who’d proven to be quite a successful nuisance since joining the fray midway through the opening stanza, lost his cool right in front of referee Greg Johnstone with a needless shove, and immediately levelled up the numbers for the next 10 minutes.
The game settled into an even balance of Warringah’s ball retention and support play as they looked to put the icing on the cake, and Manly’s desperation to keep them out whilst trying to profit from any scraps. To that end the Rats, but for a few poor decisions, unforced errors and a foot in touch, could have put the game firmly to bed. While the Marlins continued to shoot themselves in the foot, two penalty clearances failing to find touch to release the pressure valve, and issues at the set-piece hampering any progress.
The dam finally burst with just five minutes remaining. A penalty tapped from five metres out by replacement Rats halfback Pat Curtin was trucked up by the forwards, lost, regained, and sent wide, before Curtin himself picked the ball out of a ruck, shimmied and dived over with glee for try number five.
Manly had the last say, winger Fraser Toohey screeching onto a pop pass from Jarrod Roberts to dissect the Warringah line and show a clean pair of heels to go behind the posts. But it was very much a case of ‘oh-so-little, oh-so-late’ for the Marlins. This particular derby had long belonged to the green and white half of the peninsular divide, and the party was only just getting started.
WARRINGAH 41 (Jordan Fowles 2, Johnny Loseli, Harry Suters, Pat Curtin tries; Louis Anderson 5 cons, 2 pens) defeated MANLY 17 (Peter Squires, Fraser Toohey tries; Ben Rubio 2 cons, pen) HT 34-10
WARRINGAH: 1. Jack Slack-Smith (c); 2. Roy Vucago; 3. Jason Lautolo; 4. Finlay Hillicks; 5. Alex Fowles; 6. Adam Bate; 7. Tim Crowyn; 8. Mark Jackson; 9. Callum Reid; 10. Luke Vescio; 11. Johnny Loseli; 12. Harry Suters; 13. Jordan Fowles; 14. Max Jones; 15. Louis Anderson – Replacements: Tom Haggerty; Matt Wedlake; Jordan Reid; Jordan Meredith; Pat Curtin; Matt Considine; Norbecio Mambo
MANLY: 1. Viliami Vaka; 2 Tom Dunstan; 3. Aisea Tukipili; 4. Gus Verhoeven; 5. Brad Meaney; 6. Josh Littlewood; 7. Matt Schofield; 8. John Mokofisi; 9. Jack Brisby; 10. Ben Rubio (c); 11. Scott Clemmett; 12. Jarrad Roberts; 13. Peter Squires; 14. Fraser Toohey; 15. Ryan Squires – Replacements: William Faingata’a; Liam Ryan; Scott Williams; Tom Langrell; Byron Leach; Jack Wilson
WHAT THEY SAID…
Warringah head coach Adam Donkin:
“We lost twice to them through the year, so coming into this weekend, we’d probably taken the underdog status a little bit – and we don’t mind that. But heading into the weekend I felt pretty confident, and our start was unbelievable, we didn’t put a foot wrong and it all came off for us.
“It was those last little passes that probably let us down a little bit in that second half, but we said we’d back our defence and we stuck to that really well. We did use the emotions around today and around the club to our advantage, and we said that we had 16 out on the field with Lachie out there with us, and I think that got us through those moments when we were digging deep with a man down. There were fourteen of them on the field and they all dug in and didn’t let them get out of their half in that second half.
“Our last three games have probably been our best of the year, so we peaked at the right time. And it’s a very sweet feeling to beat Manly, especially given that the last time they made it to the 3rd grade grand final I was their coach!”
Manly captain Ben Rubio:
“The Rats came out firing and I think we just went into our shells a bit. They made a lot of good line breaks and our defence wasn’t up to scratch, which was a massive shame, and in that first 15 minutes they scored about three tries and we had our backs against the wall.
“They got the red card, which I thought would have been a good chance for us to get on top but the momentum never really shifted and they stuck at it and played really well. There were a few unforced errors from us, and maybe we were trying to force it a bit and not really relaxing and playing our tempo. We were overthinking it and they just stuck to their guns and man-for-man worked harder than us.
“We’d beaten them twice in the season but to come out to a neutral ground in a final, that means absolutely nothing. You can get the rub of the green sometimes but usually, finals come down to who wants it more and they wanted it more than us today, so well played to them, they fully deserved it.
“It’s still been a really good season. We lost to Sydney Uni in the first Qualifying Final and got a second chance, and a great win over Eastwood last week just to get here. So I couldn’t be prouder of the boys and I can’t thank them and the coaches enough. It was an off day today but we’ll come back fighting next year.”
Warringah captain Jack Slack-Smith:
“It all came together well for us. We knew they were going to have a big pack and run at us, and it was tough when we got that red card but I think it was just the belief that we had that got us through.
“Obviously, there is a lot of emotion around today for the club, and I think going in we tried to downplay it a bit, but you couldn’t deny it was out there in all the players. It was a question of controlling it, and we spoke about it during the week and again on the bus this morning on the way here. We just needed to do what we do well every week, and just do it better.
“We knew we had to dig deep for that second half and we stayed at the right end of the field the whole half and got it done. We had them pinned down there but sometimes, your work in the first half gets it done for you, and we just knew that we had to keep attacking and not stop playing rugby.
“We’ve had a core group the whole year and this has been building for a while now. We came here last year and fell short, so we knew that no matter what happened today we had to keep coming back at them. We said before the game that those losses during the season against them count for nothing if you win that grand final – and we did!”