Grand Final Key Match-Up – Harry Jones v Harry Potter
Photos: Karen Watson & AJF Photography
For all the grunt and rumble of the big boys up front, the athleticism and power of the loose forwards, the blood and thunder at the tackle contest, and the kicking prowess and game management of your playmakers, there’s little better when watching a game of rugby than to see a dashing winger in full flight.
Whether they’re weaving patterns with deft feet, scattering opponent’s asunder with brute force on the run, or are simply the quickest thing on the field, the sight of an absolute gun finisher at the top of his game is a joy to behold. So when you want to talk about pace, skill, and finishing ability in the Intrust Super Shute Shield, the conversation has to come around to the two Harry’s pretty quickly.
It seems like Harry Jones has been around for a while despite being just 23-years-old. But given he made his precocious debut in 1st Grade for the Rats at the age of just 18 – he has. Since then he has forged a reputation as one of the leading ‘pie-baggers’ in the competition, but his very career was in doubt before a ball was kicked this year after suffering a troubling foot injury. That he’s even stepping out in the grand final, and that after crossing the chalk another five times from just 10 starts this season – including a double in last week’s semi-final – is in itself no small achievement.
Hugging the same touchline opposite him tomorrow is Sydney Uni’s Harry Potter. With a name so ripe for opposition banter, on-field and off, you better be bloody good – and he is. Having picked him out as one to watch in 2019 back in round one, he has not only made my fortuitous selection look unusually prescient, he has gone on to dominate the competition stats for the most run metres, most line breaks, and most defenders beaten, while chucking in 11 tries for good measure. You could say he is in form.
Behind the Ruck caught up with both wing-men this week to discuss themselves, each other, and their team’s chances of glory.
ON THE SEASON SO FAR:
Harry Jones: “That round one game against Norths, and the round three game against Uni, were really tough to watch. However, the belief did start to build after that, and each week would present a new challenge. I know there was a photo that went around with the Waratahs in their club jerseys and it was dominated by Norths, Uni and Randwick, and that lit a fire within us as we only had one bloke in there (Rory O’Connor) after making the grand final twice. So Gerrardo’s goal and ours is to try and get as many Rats to the next level as possible.
“However, I think the main thing was that we focused on each week as they came, meaning we treated a team like Western Sydney Two Blues or West Harbour the same we’d treat Uni, or even the famous derby game against Manly. It cemented a certain professionalism and belief in the group. Souths were tough in that last game before finals. We definitely did not play to our standard and they played amazingly, so credit to them. But the same thing happened in 2017 when we won the title, we lost to them in the last round…
“I also think the balance of old heads and young guys at the club remained really solid. Guys like Wardy, Josh and Hamish steered the ship, and also let blokes like myself, Rory and Tyson Davis who’ve been around a while now, step up into a more senior role. The addition of a few new players has been awesome too. Guys like Matt Foulds and the two Ben’s (Marr and Woolett) into 1st Grade have been awesome.
“I was actually first coached by ‘Gerrardo’ when I was in my first year out of school. I was thrown straight into grade, and for the first few weeks started in 2’s while coming off the bench for 1’s. So I’ve known him for a long time, and also was coached by him in the stint I did over at Toyota Shokki in Japan. I have huge amounts of respect for him for the way he’s kept and grown the momentum at the club, which started a few years ago. ‘Gerrardo’ loves giving tips but all the boys love taking them, so it’s a really solid coach/player balance.”
Harry Potter: “I think we quickly learnt that we were being targeted heavily this year, so backing up a successful season like last with another was proving to be a tough task. In fact, remembering various predictions of the season from the start of the year, I’m not sure many people had Warringah and Uni as favourites to get to the Grand Final in 2019.
“I gained lots of confidence out of last year, and I think a lot of us did, particularly the young players. That has definitely flowed on into this year, and has paid dividends throughout the season. Now knowing what it took to win the Shute Shield, we have all been aware of the effort and training that it takes to get to the Grand Final.
“It’s great looking back on the season, watching all the games we’ve played this year and the club depth we’ve used to get to the grand final. Tomorrow we’ve got 23 guys that for the most part started pre-season last November, and some that have joined us later. And this will be our last chance to play together as a group, thus we are very pumped up and looking forward to going out there one last time and showing what we can do.”
ON THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER:
Harry Potter: “I’ve done some homework on Harry absolutely, but wingers are quite often off their wing. So while we might be opposite each other come set-piece, it’s the whole backline or even team that you need to do your homework on. Of course I prepare to stop opposite wingers in one-on-one situations, and that’s a skill that us as wingers need to master. But as a backline we will look to make sure we work as a unit, and try to prevent them even getting into positive attacking positions. We’ll still be trying to shut their good finishers out of the game as best we can, and will look to exploit them in those areas too.
“I’d certainly say consistently playing on the wing has been hugely beneficial for me this year. I have played quite a few different positions at the club, but this year played solely on the wings. And to play the entire season injury free – touch wood! – has been crucial to getting more and more experience in that position.
“In that sense I’ve been very lucky this year, but the team overall has had quite a few injuries throughout the season. That has made things tricky at times. But all in all, we’ve coped with it well and put together some great performances using lots of players. Consistency in terms of the whole backline is also a huge factor I think, and the more we play together the more the backline seems to gel together.”
Harry Jones: “I’ve been really impressed with him and the young Uni backline as a whole. I definitely think the biggest thing lacking in Australian rugby is basic skill involved with catching, passing, and kicking compared to other nations. Guys like Harry show that the new generation of footy players in the country can have speed, size and skill and not sacrifice one for the other, so it’s a real positive moving forward.
“I probably played around eight or 10 games this year with a stress fracture in my foot still causing issues, so I’m opting to get a simple surgery at the end of the season this year to fix it up. I actually decided late last year that maybe rugby wasn’t for me, so I began to explore a Plan B. I gained my license in real estate and resumed my full-time PE teaching studies, and it was by far the best thing I could’ve done. The reason why I say it was such a good idea is because it revitalised my love for the game, and has crystallised my vision into wanting to become a professional again. There is no better job in my opinion than playing a sport you love for a living. So in saying that, yes, definitely for the next year or so, my focus is to try and get back to that level.
“I definitely wasn’t oblivious to what I needed to work on in my game. DC (previous head coach Darren Coleman) and ‘Gerrardo’ have both been honest with me from the outset, and it’s been really awesome to have some positive feedback from those two throughout this season. I knew that it was the main reason for not pushing further, so I’m just focused on the task of improving it every week. I’m really happy with the progress this season, but there is still room for improvement like anything.”
ON THE GAME:
Harry Jones: “We are two opposite clubs with two very different ways of operating. However, form over the last few years would probably place these two as this year’s grand finalists, so it’s going to be a cracking game. It’s a tough one to predict. Uni have an influx of Super Rugby players, which is only beneficial. But we have a team that’s been with each other week-in, week-out since October.
“I just think we need to nullify their back three. They have a great attacking threat all three of them, so the focus is just not giving them too much space and minimising their impact on the game. Also their set-piece and linespeed. Teams that have been successful this year against them have taken the game to them, and not let them dictate the pace in which the game is played. If our forwards can match and better their set-piece and physicality, I think we’re in for a good chance.
“2017 was definitely one to remember. I think because of the nucleus of the team that’s been around forever there’s a strong belief, and that has been there for a while. Preparation for a grand final differs every year, but I think we just have to treat it like another week. Do what we do and the result will go to the better team. We have our strengths and they have theirs, so it will be a cracker.”
Harry Potter: “Last year was last year and we are both different outfits 12 months later. But to be honest the formula to winning grand finals hasn’t changed for quite some time. Do all the little things very well, and everyone play their role in the team, and I suspect we will be an ominous force for the whole 80 minutes. No doubt this will be a game between two teams that are confident, and very eager to lift that trophy at full-time.
“Tomorrow may be redemption for them perhaps, that’s not for me to say. But you’d hope they’d be hungry for it no matter what, it is a Shute Shield Grand Final. It’s all in the past come Saturday, it’ll be a clean slate. Redemption or just another game, I imagine each team is very hungry to win the Shute Shield this weekend, you’d be silly not to be!
“Finals rugby is a different story once the regular season comes to an end, and no doubt hitting your straps is vital to succeed in the finals series. I don’t think you can say we manufactured it, all in all it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest. But I’m confident now that we are certainly in a good place going into Saturday.”
THE EXPERT VIEW:
Darren Coleman: “Harry Jones’ defence has improved, and he’ll need to tackle well against the strong running, tackle-busting Harry Potter, who’s been the best outside back in the Shute Shield this year. Jones has a unique ability to do something to get you easy points.”
To read all of Darren Coleman’s fantastic in-depth analysis of the final, please click here.