From the sheds… Western Sydney Two Blues v Penrith
WESTERN SYDNEY TWO BLUES 36 (Kalafi Pongi 3, Tuitakau Kioa, Niko Dalivusa tries; Rory Garrett 4 cons, pen) defeated PENRITH 29 (Jeremiah Faamausili, Luke Nadurutalo, Willie Tooala, Terry Fanolua tries; Dean Blore 3 cons, pen) HT 14-15 at Lidcombe Oval
After 16 long months, the Western Sydney Two Blues got to sing the team song last weekend after a 36-29 victory over Penrith in what was the first derby between the two rivals since 2017. Trailing by a point at the break they came out with the bit between their teeth in the second half, with prop Kalafi Pongi an unlikely hero as he crossed for a hat-trick of tries to cement the win, before a late rally from the Emus earned them their first points since 2016 in defeat.
Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from both camps…
Joel Rivers (Western Sydney Two Blues head coach):
“All week we tried to say that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, that’s the most important game at that time. But there was a lot of build-up, a lot of social media chat, and the fact that they moved the game so that it could be live streamed – the boys knew that as well. People around the club have been saying – and not trying to put pressure on them – but making sure they knew it was a must-win. Penrith are back in the competition, we’re both western Sydney teams, and the fact that the teams before them today had done well and won – seconds got up in the final minutes – I think that made them even more nervous.
“So they were concerned during the warm-up about how their mates were going, and that concerned me. In the warm-up against Norths last week you could just tell that they were on and ready to do the physical stuff, not that they didn’t do the physical stuff in that first half today but they just didn’t do it well. It was just our set-up and we didn’t play how we’d discussed all week, we went away from it and had guys trying to do too much. They wanted to be the person that sparks the team but you’ve still got to stick to what you’ve been playing and what you’ve been training. We’ve got some pointers around when they can and can’t offload, but we threw some hopeful passes today that went against us and put us under pressure.
“I was annoyed more than nervous at half-time. We’d played a lot in our own half and we’d spoken all week about not doing that and turning them around because any team that plays us or Hunter or Penrith, they try and turn you around and play in your half. Defend and let them make the mistakes, and we wanted to do exactly the same thing. The two tries that they scored came from us trying to run it out of our own half and we turned it over, then they had scrums and some really nice plays. Their second try was probably a really poor read in defence but as soon as their twelve got on the outside he was gone. Apart from being scored against it was really nice to watch!
“Our two focus points, and they have been for many weeks now, are our execution and effort. When both are on we’re a good team. I think last week against Norths was the first time we’d had execution and effort for the full eighty minutes, and we just got beaten by a better team. This week we didn’t have any execution in the first half and our effort ebbed and flowed. We were running sideways off nine and not going anywhere or creating any gaps, so we just needed to have someone step up. And TK [Tuitakau Kioa] carried three times in the first five or six phases of the second half and we got over the advantage line every time, which got us on the front foot, and the team is a bit like that.
“In some games someone needs to step up and do something to get them going, in other games they’re all on, so it’s up to us to try and manage that and identify why and try to change it. They can do it against top flight teams as well, when they want to do it. Well, it’s not that they don’t want to do it they just don’t think about it because there’s five options going through their mind and they make poor decisions. When they get on a roll I think it makes it easier for them to make smarter decisions, and once everyone executes their own roles they get really fired up.
“Our lineout was still poor today given they weren’t competing and didn’t once try to go out the back, but we were still trying to muck about with slips. The lineout is purely there to get the ball back in, it’s not there so that we all look good, it’s literally a restart. So if they’re not contesting, don’t change it. I also thought we were a little bit hard done-by in the second half with our scrum. I thought we dominated and at one point we got five penalties in a row and he still wouldn’t send someone off. But I think neither head coach was happy with it and we’ve both got rose-tinted glasses on!
“The game’s never over against Penrith, and I think they had a bit more of a sense of urgency in that last quarter. I don’t think the momentum shifted – I don’t believe in all that – I just think they were more urgent. They wanted it more. They put some subs on that wanted it and had some stuff to play for and were fresh, while we’d had a couple of injuries in second grade which meant we couldn’t make a couple of swaps. That’s not an excuse, but it did mean that they were more urgent while our guys were trying to hang on a bit.
“That’s why we went for that kick with eight or nine minutes to go when we were eleven points up, as stupid as it seems, because they were on the front-foot a lot and playing with that urgency while we were running out of legs, and we thought that worst case if they score a couple more it’ll be a draw. When it said two minutes left I knew it was really close because I knew there were issues with the clock. but the ref always keeps his own time. Then we had the physio come through to say that the game was over at the next stoppage, and that was before they went over again, so I knew that we’d got it.
“People can say ‘You only just got up’, but at the end of the day it’s a win and we’ll take it. You have to have reward at some point and you have to celebrate the small victories even if they are small, and it was really nice to see players like Nick Blacklock and Riley Jacobson, who have been really loyal all the way through, and guys like Brian Blacklock get emotional because they deserve it. It was great just to be able to see them sing the team song.
“I haven’t been able to sing it too many times, so I don’t know the words that well to be honest and I was reading it off a print out! But I hope to learn it even more over the next few weeks. We’ve got a few big games coming up with Hunter next week then Warringah, who lost today, and then West Harbour – they’re all winnable. So it is possible, if they want to and put the necessary work in, to get on a bit of a roll. Whether we do or not is a different story.”
John Muggleton (Penrith head coach):
“I thought there were a couple of decisions just after half-time that changed the momentum of the game – a turnover particularly on halfway, and then a scrum penalty after that that gave them the opportunity to score. Then they got three tries in a row, which gave them the lead. We scored the last two tries, which was good, but that little turnaround of momentum after half-time certainly killed us. We had a definite low-tackle focus because if you let them stand on their feet then they do get to offload, and that’s what they like to do. We didn’t do that just after half-time, even though we talked about it in the shed, so we need to be better there.
“We were right in it, and I don’t know whether it’s pre-conception or what it is but we just get hammered by each referee each week at the scrum. Their tighthead was shifting his backside out and angling in but it was clear to everybody except the referee. That gives you field position, which gives you possession to do what you want. I wasn’t happy with our lineout defence. We didn’t get enough pressure on them, so they got whatever ball they wanted and could do with it what they did and we had to defend that on the ground, so we need to be better there as well.
“We brought some big boys off the bench, and we had to bring them on earlier than we wanted to because the score was looking like it was going to jump away. Tactically, I thought as coaching staff we did a good job there, because those blokes haven’t been around all year and aren’t as fit yet because they’ve only just come back to rugby, so we thought giving them fifteen to twenty max would work. We ended up giving them almost thirty but they did the job for us, which was good. As far as the effort is concerned I was happy, and as far as the difference between the two teams, it’s not massive.
“I’m pleased that they’re still positive and still running around, and that’s credit to them. I told them right from the start that it was going to be hard, and this game was always a target for us to try and knock a team off. But it’s hard when you’re getting beaten each week. We’ve done enough in half a game or three-quarters of a game to be right in it before fitness got us, which we knew would happen – you can’t get people fit in a couple of weeks. We had four weeks before the season started and it’s very difficult when blokes have got knocks to keep running them around – even though we are, we’re still doing fitness every session because we have to. The other side of it is that we need to have everybody turn up at training and be committed, and that’s not happening at the moment. That’s one thing we really need to fix.
“We think we’ll give West Harbour a run next week at home – they never like coming down to Nepean Rugby Park, so we’re not giving up on anything. We’ll go after them next week and then we’ve got two very good sides in Easts and Gordon, but I expect to give a good showing against them as well and not just give it away. Then we finish off at home to Hunter, and we’ve just got to learn the really important parts of the game that we can knock off so we don’t have those ten minutes like today where we basically lost the game.
“We’re happy with our progress, but we really need the Sydney Rugby Union to back us and tell us now that we’re back in or not next year. If we’re not I’ll go on holiday, but if we are, then I’ll be running around western Sydney starting next week trying to get sponsorship for the club, so that we can build it up to be better than it used to be and get in the market and compete for players on a level playing field. While we’re unsure about what’s happening, it’s very difficult to build. Everybody will be starting training in November and we’re in September now, so they better get their skates on otherwise they’re just going to do us in the eye again if they leave it til late, because everybody else will be signed and we’ll have no-one again.
“We don’t just want to turn up, we want to be competitive like we were today. I’m sure that all of the players who have turned up this year know two or three mates that, on the back of their performances, would come and give it a try next year, so that bodes well for us, and I think we could do quite well. We can definitely use the footy and definitely have some pace out wide – our twelve is a good player, and we’ve scored the last try in most of the games, which is a good sign. So we’ve got some quality players, we’ve just got to keep them together.
“All the other clubs can come across and say ‘We’re in the comp next year’ and steal all our good players and Penrith will be stuffed again. I don’t want that to happen, so I’m just trying to get some answers around our future because I think we’ve done enough to prove that we can do something under adversity, and if we get a few things going our way I think we can do an even better job. We haven’t been together long, so we expect that next year we’ll be better again.”
Riley Jacobson (Western Sydney Two Blues captain):
“They always grow an extra limb when we play them and to be honest, we were probably a bit complacent in the first half and we didn’t execute. But credit to the boys, we stuck to our structure and we were patient, and I know we went in behind but we came out in the second half firing.
“We didn’t panic by any means at half-time, we knew we had to calm the storm and then we’d get our chances. It was the same game plan, we just executed it a lot better. But they’re always dangerous, it doesn’t matter what the score is – especially against us, they don’t die against us.
“I don’t think we’ve lived up to our expectations this season. But coming off a two-try loss to Norths last week into a win this week, and then a very winnable game next week against Hunter, we’ve got a chance to finish the year well. We’ve got West Harbour in the second-last game as well, and I know they’re performing now but that’s always a pretty good game between us. We’ve just got to bring our A-game for the rest of the season but hopefully it won’t be too little, too late.
“We have our moments in matches but it’s just getting to do that for eighty minutes. From last year we’ve retained a forward pack, now it’s about retaining some backs and continuing that continuity into next season. You can’t take wins for granted so any time you get to sing the team song is great. We’ve just got to build on what we did today.”