Determined Gordon down Norths in dramatic derby victory

Photo: Lachlan Lawson Photography

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With 76pts, 11 tries and five yellow cards, the second North Shore derby of the season certainly didn’t disappoint, unless you are of a red and black persuasion. It ended with a first win for Gordon over Northern Suburbs at North Sydney Oval since 2011, 42-34, and a significant shot in the arm to the Highlander’s chances of a first finals appearance since 2009. But having led 21-3, 28-8, 35-15, and 42-22 at different stages of the match, losing three players to the sin bin in quick succession in the closing stages almost cost them a memorable victory. Here’s how it all played out…

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It was the home side that enjoyed the early possession, a couple of penalties giving them the chance to ask a few questions in the opposition half. But it was Gordon’s first foray upfield that brought the most danger, a potent carry from debutant Karmichael Hunt getting them on the front-foot, before a kick in behind had the Shoremen scrambling, and in need of a terrific mopping-up job from Lochie Creagh to clear their lines.

A scrum win allowed the Highlanders to maintain the pressure, and they were building plenty of promising phases when a ball-and-all bell-ringer on Mahe Vailanu from Norths skipper Hugh Sinclair, brought a halt to their progress. But a short-arm penalty from the next scrum gave Gordon captain Jordan Goddard a chance to take a quick tap and drive straight at the heart of the red and black line, only for Will Miller to execute a textbook steal on the floor.

So you couldn’t exactly say it hadn’t been coming when the visitor’s opened the scoring after quarter of an hour. Another burst from Hunt over halfway got them in position, and after the halves combo of Jacob Abel and Robbie Coleman had stretched the home defence to breaking point, Hunt was on hand to take an offload from Goddard on the floor, and pop a pass up out of the back of the hand for the supporting Seán Kearns to run in.

The prolific Irishman added the extras, but a great take from the kick-off by the in-form Connor Vest initiated a period of possession for the home side in response. Scrumhalf Michael Dowsett was able to work off some quick ruck-ball, and continually shift his options with Angus Sinclair and Harry Burey rotating at first-receiver. And when an over-eager Highlander line was pinged for offside, Nathan Russell stepped up to slot a welcome 3pts.

Connor Vest_Norths v Gordon_2019_CC

Connor Vest claims a lineout for the Shoremen – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

A bout of kicking tennis ensued, with Norths probing for an error from Gordon’s backline. But what they got instead, was burned. Robbie Coleman showed he still has a decent turn of speed to return with interest, and he was supported by another damaging dart from livewire scrumhalf Abel. Skipper Goddard scattered a few more Shoremen for good measure, and when the ball went wide, Ahmu Tuimalealiifano had the space he needed to steal into the corner.

The Red and Blacks suffered a further setback, with captain Sinclair sent to the bin for a late hit on Kearns in the build-up to the try. And Gordon showed no mercy, putting their foot to the floor with the man advantage to add to their tally inside a couple of minutes.

A scrum on the Norths’ 10 metre line was rumbled forward by the Highlanders pack for a penalty advantage. But they were alert to the possibilities on the other flank, and a looping cut-out pass from Coleman took out several advancing defenders to release Jaline Graham, and the centre carved a path into the 22 before offloading for Mike Molloy to go over near the flag.

Kearns slotted the sideline conversion with aplomb, and with almost half an hour on the clock, a shell-shocked Shoremen side found themselves down 21-3. They managed to negotiate the remaining period minus their on-field leader with no further damage to the scoreboard. But they needed something tangible before the break, and they got it through an increasingly reliable source.

A penalty in the last-minute of the half was kicked to touch for a five-metre lineout. Cue the expected surge en-masse for the line via the maul, and there was Waratahs hooker Andrew Tuala in position to flop over the chalk for his seventh try of the season, and leave the hosts trailing by a more manageable 13pts at the break.

Karmichael Hunt_Gordon v Norths_2019_LL

Karmichael Hunt enjoyed a stellar debut for his new club side – Photo: Lachlan Lawson Photography

But if that score had fired the Shoremen up for a second-half comeback, it wasn’t immediately obvious, as Gordon racked up a bonus-point fourth try within a few minutes of the restart.

Norths were actually on the front-foot before a turnover gave the Highlanders a chance to work their way into the opposition half. Dominant carries from Vailanu and Coleman got them within range of the 22. But it was a second involvement in quick succession from Karmichael Hunt that opened the door, a lovely double-pump bamboozling the Shoremen defence to put Jordan Goddard through a gap, and the skipper danced his way around the last man to cross the chalk.

However, the visitor’s soon blotted their copybook by conceding a soft response straight from the kick-off. Harry Burey darted through the line with a dummy before Angus Sinclair took control and weighed up the options outside him. There didn’t appear to be too much on when Jack Lindsay ran onto his subsequent pass and straight into a wall of tartan jerseys. But the replacement somehow wriggled beyond the combined attentions of Graham, Goddard and Hunt, to scamper away down the short-side and dive home with his first real touch of the pill.

In mitigation, the home side lost the services of the influential Will Miller to a hamstring strain as Angus Sinclair slotted the conversion, but the crazy start to the second stanza wasn’t over. A clearing kick from an under pressure Clark was returned by a rampaging Vailanu, who drew in several defenders. And with the Shoremen line compromised, Abel pounced to carry into traffic and offload in the tackle for the intuitive Kearns to run in his second. The fullback duly added to his day at the races with a sideline conversion, and Gordon were firmly in control at 35-15.

A high shot from Graham on Burey in the 56th minute saw the Gordon centre sent to the bin, and provide Norths with a much-needed lifeline – and they took it. Skipper Sinclair carried hard into the 22, prop Lawrance Hunting skittled three Highlanders as he powered even closer to the Gordon line, before Angus Sinclair took a pass from halves partner Dowsett to step inside, palm off Coleman, and spin his way over.

Angus Sinclair_Norths v Gordon_2019_PC

A pumped up Angus Sinclair after smashing his way over for Norths’ third try – Photo: Paul Cross / SPORTSPICS

That last-ditch effort proved to be the end of Coleman’s action for the day through injury. But the visitor’s held firm for the remaining minutes with Graham in the bin, and while Norths continued to chip away for another score as the game entered the final quarter, Gordon’s superior work at the breakdown stemmed many a red and black tide.

That defensive effort paid off when they duly went up the other end of the field to claim what seemed certain to be the match sealing try on 68 minutes. Spreading their play nicely with Jacob Abel a constant jack-in-the-box, the backs jinked and scurried their way inside the Norths 22, before the forwards stepped up to make it pay, picking and driving their way to the line for replacement James Lough to find the chalk from a metre.

But a game that had already offered up 64 points, nine tries and two yellow cards, decided that that simply wasn’t enough fun for one day.

A no-arms late hit on Angus Sinclair from Gordon’s Jack Maguire kick-started the thrilling denouement, and led to 10 minutes on the sideline for the openside. Only for Norths’ day to be summed up by the sight of the normally reliable boot of Harry Burey, sending the subsequent kick to touch just the wrong side of the corner flag.

The Shoremen received a further leg-up when lock Cameron Holt joined Maguire on the naughty chair within a minute, after a clumsy high shot on Lochie Creagh. This time Burey played it safe to give his forwards an attacking platform right on the edge of the 22. And they used it to full effect, punishing Gordon’s lack of numbers to march unhindered all the way to within a metre of the line, before Charlie Abel illegally brought their progress to a halt.

Mahe Vailanu_Gordon v Norths_2019_AQ

Mahe Vailanu carried hard all game for the Highlanders – Photo: Andrew Quinn

The result? A penalty try, and an incredible third yellow card for the visitor’s inside five minutes, much to the ire of the vocal Gordon faithful sat in the O’Reilly Stand.

From a seemingly impenetrable position their side were now at the mercy of their opposition with a 13pt lead, but only 12 men on the field, and around six minutes still remaining.

The situation also required Norths to play it smart, and they did, the Sinclair brothers combining to get them back into prime position, and the numbers game going in favour of Cam Clark for the Waratahs winger to go over in the corner. Angus Sinclair’s missed conversion from the sideline left the Shoremen still needing two scores to complete a memorable turnaround. But with the status quo as it was, that seemed a more than plausible possibility.

However, a knock-on from the restart didn’t help their cause, and was an opportunity pounced upon by Gordon to run down the clock with a scrum that took an age to set. And when Norths then won a penalty via a turnover at the next breakdown, and Burey’s kick failed to find touch and Gordon knocked it on, that was that. A bizarre ending that somewhat befitted the contest that preceded it.

Gordon were left to celebrate a first derby win on enemy soil for eight years, while Norths could only rue an off-day that they will need to put to bed quickly as they plan another title challenge. Could they meet again in the finals?

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GORDON 42 (Seán Kearns 2, Ahmu Tuimalealiifano, Mike Molloy, Jordan Goddard, James Lough tries; Seán Kearns 6 cons) defeated NORTHERN SUBURBS 34 (Penalty Try, Andrew Tuala, Jack Lindsay, Angus Sinclair, Cam Clark tries; Angus Sinclair 2 cons, Nathan Russell pen) at North Sydney Oval. HT 21-8

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