What they said… Eastwood v Manly

MANLY 32 (Nick Holton 2, Josh Turner, Kevin Fuavao tries; Nick Holton 3 cons, pen, no.23 pen) defeated EASTWOOD 13 (Mick Snowden, Fabian Goodall tries; pen) HT 7-8

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The first day of a new season always brings with it plenty of hope and promise, and an assurance that if your team wins, it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things because it’s only round one. Conversely, if you lose, it’s not the end of the world, again, because it’s only round one.

But given the likelihood that the 2018 Intrust Super Shute Shield looms as one of the most competitive on record, with a blanket thrown across almost the entire ladder in terms of predicting the top six to contest the finals, then putting a tick in the win column in week one was always going to be a boon.

So it was that Behind the Ruck trekked up to a scorchingly hot TG Millner Field last Saturday to watch two of the more-favoured protagonists go toe-to-toe. And while there was the customary early-season ring-rustiness at play, both Eastwood and Manly showed patches of the ability that could see them firmly in the mix come August.

The Marlins kicked away in the last quarter to put a more uneven look to the scoreboard than large periods of the match suggested, running home with a 32-13 victory – see match report here. But at the full-time whistle, there were reasons for optimism from both camps…

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Manly head coach Brian Melrose:

“Honestly, I’m not just saying it, but I really didn’t know what I’d get today. On paper we had a lot of boys that you’d recognise but we had a lot of change and a lot of those guys were coming back off very short preparation, just a couple of training runs. So I thought we were underdone – probably like most teams – but I didn’t have a strong feeling of where it was going to be at, and after 10 minutes, I was feeling like it was going to be a long day.

“I think that it was a very, very close game that we just found a little bit of an edge in, and that can be very difficult. There were some crucial moments in the game where someone was probably going to seize the momentum and we were able to do that, and I was pleased for those guys for whom it wasn’t their natural game, that they were just able to manage those moments at crucial times. That’s footy, you’ve just got to manage those situations well, and we didn’t manage too badly.

“On the amount of preparation that we’ve had together, that we were able to not fall apart in the key moments – not to say that we didn’t ever fall apart – was pleasing. But I do think in these games, and in very hot conditions, I did say early on that if a team could get ahead by eight or nine, they could go on to win by a little bit. I don’t take anything away from Eastwood, when they ran out they looked like a really imposing side and I suspect that will be the case throughout the season.

“We’ve got a newish blend with a number of older guys in Harry Bergelin, James Hilterbrand and Nick Holton that haven’t had a foot on the park this year, and we had a very muddled, patchwork Christmas period with a lot of our key players that retired, took opportunities overseas, or were injured, and there’s not a hell of a lot you can do about that. But I expect the boys to be good, that’s the plan.  

“People are still going on about last year and asking me if I’ve got over it. You never get over it, but it’s not the same game, it’s a new game and a new year and we can only try to learn from our experiences in the year that we had together. What happened five years ago is really not mine or a lot of these player’s problems, but last year is. We all know it’s a long competition, and we have to be open enough to say that it’s great winning the first game but you’ve got to try and win the last one haven’t you?”

Jai Ayoub_Eastwood v Manly_2018_SG

Jai Ayoub returned for Eastwood after missing most of 2017 with injury – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

Eastwood head coach John Manenti:

“We made some errors, turned some ball over we didn’t have to, and kicked some balls away when we were in reasonable attacking positions. We built pressure and just kicked it away. The lineout also cost us a bit. I think if we’d had a fair percentage of lineout ball we could have asked a few more questions of them, and I think there were a few issues with our option taking and our decision making. But I didn’t feel the score was reflective of where the game was.

“As a team and a group, they’ve probably got a bit more combination than we have, even though we’ve got guys who have played here before, they haven’t played together as a group that much – certainly not recently. Jai [Ayoub] is still finding his groove, he did some good things but he did some uncharacteristic things, and ‘Snowy’ [Mick Snowden] too. When you’re being realistic, you’ve got Snowy, Jai and Rhys Allen all coming back from a year off and we’ve had basically two games of footy, so they’ll get better.

“We’ve only had Pama [Fou] for a couple of training sessions as well, and he’s easing back into it after hardly playing any footy for two years. He defended well, didn’t get much room or opportunity in attack, but he’ll get better and be a good asset. And we had a guy in Dean Doumbos who had a good game at loosehead but he’s really a tighthead, and George Kent who’s a backrower playing in the second row, so there’s a few things that aren’t perfect or ideal. But that’s our job to work with that.

“I’m not overly distressed because Manly are a team that will win a fair few games of footy, so we’ve lost to someone that will be there or thereabouts. But, I think it’s going to be a real close comp, and every point you lose is going to hurt you at the back end. You’re not going to win the comp in round one and we’ve got a fair bit of work to do to get there. But I knew we were going to have to work into the season, and my aim is to be close enough that we can have a shot at the end of it.”

Sam Shires_Manly v Eastwood_2018_AM

Sam Shires was tireless for the Marlins – Photo: Adam MacDonald

Manly captain Adrian Hall:

“We knew it was going go to be a tough contest, and just after half-time it was 14-13 and could have gone both ways. But today we stayed in the big moments and we kept chipping away, and we ended up getting the result. The pre-season has probably been a little bit frustrating with injuries but it was good to put together a performance that we can be proud of today. There’s still plenty of things to work on but it was good to be back out there and it was really enjoyable. It was a good way to start the year. 

“I felt there were a few momentum shifts throughout the game. Obviously they started off well, got the bounce of the ball and that try and we were behind our posts early, but we managed to get ourselves back into it after the first 20. Then in the second half they started off strong again and we managed to come back even harder and get the win.

“What really impressed me today was the boys’ support lines and how we kept running off each other. That’s going to be good for us this year and has been a work on from last year. Sam Shires played really well, his workmate was awesome, Tim [Donlan] has been doing some stuff in the pre-season which has really added to his game, and that helped us today with those box kicks that kept us in it and allowed us to apply more pressure, and ‘Holty’ [Nick Holton] really controlled the game for us at times as well.

“The one-handed offload? I was just glad that Kevvy caught up to it and didn’t make me look bad! But that is something we can use this year, and I know for myself and maybe others, it’s been something I’ve thought about adding to my game a bit more. I think guys will probably work on it a little bit more throughout the season, which will keep our game flowing and with our support lines as well, hopefully we go well.

“It’s a new year and we can’t hold on to what happened last season. There’s a lot of things that went against us at the back end of last year, and while we don’t want to use that as an excuse, when you lose three guys in the first 10 minutes of a quarter-final it’s quite tough. We have to evolve from it, learn from it and move on and be better as a group. The fortunate thing is that we are still a core group, there’s still 17 rounds to go, and finals are a long way away.

“Norths are going to be another tough challenge for us next week, Eastwood are going to get better, and I think all the teams are going to get better. That’s exciting for the comp, and exciting as an individual challenge.”

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