Eastwood swamped by Red & Black wave as Shoremen click into gear

Photo: Paul Cross / SPORTSPICS

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Northern Suburbs joined Southern Districts as the only sides with a 100% record left in the Intrust Super Shute Shield, after downing the previously unbeaten Eastwood 44-14 in style at TG Millner Field last Saturday.

A try inside 10 seconds to Connor Vest set the ball rolling, and Norths were 15-0 up before the Woodies had time to blink. And despite the home side fronting up until half-time, they still went in trailing 20-7 at the break.

A fourth five-pointer for the Shoremen shortly after the restart was a killer blow, and that despite having lost skipper Hugh Sinclair to a yellow card. And with Eastwood left chasing the game the visitor’s ruthlessly picked them off, running in another three tries in the last 10 minutes to rubber stamp an impressive start to their 2019 campaign.

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It would have been a fairly safe bet to say that the try inside 22 seconds from Sydney University against Warringah the day before, would be the quickest of the weekend. But tell that to John Porch. The Aussie Sevens star soared between two Eastwood ‘catchers’ to pluck Angus Sinclair’s kick-off from the sky, before jinking past Tayler Adams and offloading for Connor Vest to dive home in around nine seconds. Crazy.

Sinclair couldn’t add the extras from out wide. But a scratchy start from the hosts that saw the next two up’n’unders spilled, and a couple of penalties gift their opponent’s field position and then a shot at the posts, allowed the flyhalf – making his season debut following an injury in the trials – to extend his side’s lead to 8-0 after just five minutes.

Enoki Muliufi_Eastwood v Norths_2019_SG

Enoki Muliufi was a real handful before succumbing to early injury – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

Norths were a team possessed in the early exchanges, brimming with confidence and belief in what they were doing, and ready to punish any error with impunity. And when Eastwood dropped the ball cold on halfway shortly after the restart, they pounced with an electricity, execution and precision in their play, that was simply too hot to handle.

Tidy hands from Vest and a lovely wide pass from Harry Burey got things rolling, the ball then sent through seven phases and the fingers of another 12 Shoremen en route to the 22. And having stretched the Woodies from one side to the other, they hit them straight up the middle for Hugh Sinclair to step Mick Snowden and go under the posts. A simply brilliant team try, and an imposing 15-0 advantage.

Keen to get something on the scoreboard, and arrest their opponent’s momentum, Eastwood captain Rob Lagudi signalled towards the posts when Norths were pinged for offside, only for a rare miss from points-machine Tayler Adams to cause further consternation. But the suitably stunned home crowd at TG Millner were soon given something to cheer, barnstorming centre Enoki Muliufi blasting a path through the 22 before skittling the last remnants of the red and black line to stretch for the chalk.

However, he injured himself in the process, and despite fighting through the pain for five minutes, he was forced to concede defeat, heading to the rehab queue shortly after Eastwood had also lost flanker Jacob Bamford to a serious-looking knee injury.

Despite losing key troops, the Woodies regrouped well off the back of the try to set about bludgeoning their way through the Shoremen’s stout rearguard. Pick and drives were very much in vogue anytime they entered the red zone as the momentum of territory and possession swung their way, while their scrum was also beginning to bear some highly promising fruit.

Harry Burey_Norths v Eastwood_2019_CC

Harry Burey was a rock in defence and at the heart of a lot of Norths’ best moves – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

But it was a power game that required absolute perfection in terms of ball handling, and at times, rendered their star-studded backline largely superfluous. And with Norths seemingly intent on dealing only in dominant hits, it was a mantra that fell on it’s own sword every time a knock-on released the pressure valve.

Having enjoyed the majority of play for 15-20 minutes without making it count on the scoreboard, Eastwood were hit with a sucker punch shortly before half-time.

Fullback Atieli Pakalani overran an offload from Adams in midfield, and Norths pounced. Angus Sinclair scooped off the deck for the ubiquitous Burey to carry hard into traffic, and when play went back along the line for Hugh Sinclair, the Norths captain showcased his all-round abilities with a sublime left-footed chip kick over the Eastwood line, for winger Nathan Russell to grubber ahead and outpace Snowden for the corner.

Trailing 20-7, and perhaps with a flea in their ear from the half-time dissection of their largely benign opening stanza, the Woodies went at it with gusto from the restart. And they were almost over inside two minutes, Jackson Bird pouncing on spilt pill to peel away from a couple of defenders and put Adams away for the line with a lovely reverse pass, only for George Murrin to track back and make a try-saving tackle for the visitor’s.

The hosts then got the potential break they needed when Hugh Sinclair went to the bin for slowing the ball down at the ensuing ruck. But their first opportunity to make good on their man advantage went awry off an overthrown lineout, and Gary Bautz tidied up well to help the Shoremen back out of danger.

John Porch_Norths v Eastwood_2019_CC

Aussie Sevens star John Porch made an electrifying return to club rugby – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

Woodies’ head coach Ben Batger must have wondered if a black cat had crossed his path that morning, when he then saw Fabian Goodall forced from the fray with a hand injury. And his mood can’t have improved when his side were guilty of sloppy play in their own half in the 51st minute, and were duly punished for the Shoremen’s fourth.

A pass in behind a support runner allowed Russell and centre Jack Lindsay to combine and force a turnover, before Vest and Pone Fa’amausili carried the fight to the heart of the Eastwood line. And with home defenders sucked into one side and short on the other, Angus Sinclair put an inch-perfect crossfield kick to the opposite flank for John Porch to dive, gather, and slide over the chalk.

Hugh Sinclair returned with his team’s line intact in his absence, and with an imposing 27-7 lead to protect. And you wondered if that 10 minute period when he was off the field had been Eastwood’s only hope of somehow crawling their way back into the contest.

If they were still to pull off a seismic turnaround in the final quarter, it would have to be off the back of the one area of the game in which they were enjoying dominance, the scrum, with successive penalties mounting up to imbue a warning to Norths from the referee around any further infringements.

The last one of which led to a kick to touch for the lineout, and after their first effort was illegally thwarted, Eastwood duly stuck it up their jumpers and went again for prop Dean Doumbos to find the line for his third try of the season.

Eastwood rolling maul v Norths_2019_SG

Eastwood’s forward power was a positive on an otherwise tough afternoon – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

A tidy conversion from out wide by Adams had the home side back within two unanswered scores of maintaining their unbeaten run. But it was their need to open up and chase the scoreboard that proved to be their final undoing, and they were back under their own posts again within a couple of minutes.

Another pushed pass on halfway was eaten up by Norths’ linespeed, replacement Devan Stoltz on hand to regather possession and free Russell. And the winger combined sublimely with Angus Sinclair and Burey to send scrumhalf Josh Noonan away to the corner, despite the valiant efforts of the chasing Snowden.

However, the Eastwood no.9 was adamant that Noonan didn’t actually ground the ball, and the referee appeared to momentarily agree, only for his AR to come in and confirm he’d seen the ball touch the TG Millner turf. It proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Not long after the restart, a loose carry from Adams as he tried to conjure something from nothing, was mercilessly punished. George Murrin soccered the unclaimed ball beyond the approaching Eastwood line, suddenly found himself on his own with no-one home when he reached his kick to grubber again, and was gifted the perfect bounce with which to finish his solo effort with a dive for the cameras.

And there was still time for the rampant Shoremen to put the icing on the cake, Angus Sinclair with a clearing kick upfield, backed up by a kick-chase and good work at the breakdown. And when the ball fell back into red and black arms, Jack Radford fired it wide for Hugh Sinclair to scamper into the corner for his double, and ensure the happiest of return journeys down the M2.

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NORTHERN SUBURBS 44 (Hugh Sinclair 2, Connor Vest, Nathan Russell, John Porch, Josh Noonan, George Murrin tries; Angus Sinclair 3 cons, pen) defeated EASTWOOD 14 (Enoki Muliufi, Dean Doumbos tries; Tayler Adams 2 cons) at TG Millner Field. HT 20-7

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