What they said… Sydney Rays v Greater Sydney Rams

GREATER SYDNEY RAMS 41 (Taqele Naiyaravoro, Jed Holloway, Dennis Pili-Gaitau, John Grant, Kevin Fuavao, Hugh Roach tries; Mack Mason 4 cons, pen) defeated SYDNEY RAYS 26 (Latu Latunipulu 2, Josh Turner, Paula Balekana tries; Rohan Saifoloi 3 cons) HT 19-12

Semi-finalists last year, the Sydney Rays kicked off their season a week after everyone else following their first-round bye, and with a new head coach at the helm in former Wallaby Julian Huxley. And the way they started this game suggested the week off had been a blessing, such was their ability to carve out chances against a Greater Sydney Rams side that started slowly for the second week in a row after their come-from-behind win over the NSW Country Eagles seven days earlier. The only problem for the Rays was their inability to make good on that early promise, with several gilt-edged opportunities going begging and leaving the door open for the Rams to gradually play their way in to the contest, step up a gear in the second half, and grind out the victory off the back off some set-piece dominance in the final quarter. Behind the Ruck was at Macquarie University Sporting Fields to get the post-match views of Huxley, John Manenti and Waratahs hooker Hugh Roach…

John Manenti (Greater Sydney Rams head coach):

“I’m always happy with a win but I reckon we were pretty poor today, we did enough to win but not much more than that. Defensively we really let ourselves down, and we were probably lucky that they were a bit rusty off the back of it being their first game, that played into our favour a fair bit. We got some ascendancy quite early in the scrum but we never had one within five metres to have a crack at them, and fair credit to the boys, we had two Super Rugby players packing down against four out there so that was a fair effort. But if you played them again in a fortnight and they played like that they’d probably finish off a few of those chances, so I’m not delusional enough to think that was a great performance.

“What we knew from the Shute Shield players in their team was that they had some creative players at 10 and 12, and some speed to burn out wide, and maybe we got our boys a bit frazzled in the sense of worrying about what was coming and they hung off a bit, I don’t know. But we certainly presented them with enough opportunities to win a game of footy. Had we been a bit more patient, not pushed so many passes, and built a bit more pressure, we could have been the other side of 60 points. But conversely, we could have had 40 or 50 put against us if we didn’t get a bit lucky with some of their passing and finishing. We’ve got to be better because we start playing the big boys now, near-on Super teams in Perth and Melbourne the next couple of weeks, and that performance won’t be good enough to beat them.

“We did some good things. Our scrum was good, our lineout was reasonable and we had some good carries – Roachie [Hugh Roach] and Jed [Holloway] really put their hand up. We had a short-term goal to obviously win our first two games, and there was a little bit of pride on the line coming up against two other Sydney-based teams. We’ve done that now and it’s nice, but at the end of the day it doesn’t win you anything. We’ve got satisfaction in the fact that we’re heading in the right direction, and it isn’t going to get any easier now, but I’d prefer to be 2 and 0 than 0 and 2!

“I think the boys themselves know that there were certain things there we didn’t do well. We’ll go and work on them this week and like I said, we’re going to have to be pretty good for long periods of time to beat Perth. I think they are favourites for the tournament, and they’re favourites for many reasons, one of them being that they’ve got a fair bit of purpose around what they’re doing. The good thing is – and it was probably a shame that we couldn’t snatch a bonus point at the end – we’re up the top of the ladder somewhere with two wins and a bit of confidence, so we’ll have a crack and whatever happens, happens.”

Denis Pili-Gaitau_Rams v Rays_2017 NRC_SG

Dennis Pili-Gaitau dives home for the Rams – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

Julian Huxley (Sydney Rays head coach):

“You want to get a result early in this competition, because you can’t afford to slip up too much, and disappointingly, we probably lost that game in the first half when we didn’t put four or five tries on them. When you’ve got the ascendancy, you’ve got to make it pay. We’ve dropped two or three balls over the line and blown another, so we should have been close to 30-0 up after 20 minutes, and I remember feeling uncomfortable after dominating that first half hour and thinking ‘Geez, it’s still 12-all’. In the end that proved to be the right impression, but the boys never gave it up and got themselves back within three. You can look at a couple of things there, a potential knock-on before the late tackle and that was three points that made a big difference at that time.

“They had a very solid forward pack and got the ascendancy there and we couldn’t quite stop their roll-on. But there were a lot of one-on-one misses too and you can’t hold them out with defence like that. It’s been a good experience so far with this group but we want to win, there’s no point doing it if you don’t, so today was disappointing.

“There’s a lot of positives to take into next week – I’d certainly like to see the clean line-breaks stats for us. To be fair, the Rams made quite a few as well, but they were more a case of guys skipping through tackles as opposed to our ball movement – there was some fantastic play by the boys. That’s all I’ve just said to them in there, that there were plenty of positives but that we have to come back next week with a bit more resolve to do all those little individual things better. It’s not rocket science, it’s just the basics of footy.

“Everyone thinks we’ve had this extra week, but there was no extra week really because I can’t think of one of the Rams players that was involved in the grand final, so we’ve been together about the same amount of time and all the bye gave us was the chance to give those guys involved in the final a week’s rest, because they needed it. But that’s just they way it is, and it’s a challenge for every team.

“We’ve had a horror run with injuries. Harry Jones injured himself in the grand final and may not be back in time; Bryce Hegarty and Irae Simone are still out; Michael Wells is injured, Matty Lucas is injured, Dewet Roos is injured, and Cam Clark is getting a shoulder reconstruction! We’ve still got a fantastic team but maybe a little bit of that quality in some of those big moments just helps you out. But this is what it is about, and it’s fantastic to be giving players who haven’t played at that next level the chance to appreciate what they’ve got to do to get there permanently. It’s about doing 80 minutes of basics, you cannot slip up once or you get punished, and I look at a lot of our boys and the only difference between them and Super Rugby players is that they can do that for 60 minutes, so that’s their challenge.

“It’s a short time since we’ve been together and it’s a short turnaround for next week against Melbourne. But that’s footy isn’t it? We’ve got to pick ourselves up, look at the tape and hold each other to account and double down.”

Josh Turner_Rays v Rams_2017 NRC_CC

Rays fullback Josh Turner ran for over 200 metres – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

Hugh Roach (Greater Sydney Rams hooker):

“The Rays really came out strong from the start, and it was a bit like the Country game last week. They’ve got some big boys and they’ve got some really good players and it was a bit like ‘Here we go again’. Slow starts have definitely been a weakness at this point, maybe we can tweak some stuff around our warm-up to try and help us start quicker, but we’re only two games in so we’ll see if we can turn that around. We’re reacting to adversity at the moment. When we’re under the pump we’re reacting really well but I think we need a bit more control and to be more proactive than reactive.

“We set a goal for this game in particular to get some points from our set-piece, and we did that, which was good because we really want that to be one of our strengths. We’ve got some electric guys in the backs and we’ve seen the evidence of what they can do already, so I think the big challenge for us this year is what we can do up front.

“The games are tit-for-tat, and that’s very exciting to be honest because there’s a lot of running rugby. It’s quite refreshing compared to Super Rugby, which is quite structured, whereas this is a bit like backyard footy at times and it’s great to be a part of that. We’ve got Shute Shield guys coming together after a big season and playing some good rugby, and it’s been a good start, but there’s a long way to go and we’ve got some big teams coming up. It’s a different team to last year, we’ve got a different set of goals and we’ve scratched the previous years because now it’s time to make a mark in this competition. We’re playing for pride and we’ve got our heads down. Two wins – what’s next?”

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