From the sheds… Gordon v Northern Suburbs

NORTHERN SUBURBS 24 (Kalafi Pongi 3, Tuitakau Kioa, Niko Dalivusa tries; Rory Garrett 4 cons, pen) defeated GORDON 13 (Jeremiah Faamausili, Luke Nadurutalo, Willie Tooala, Terry Fanolua tries; Dean Blore 3 cons, pen) HT 14-15 at Chatswood Oval

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In what was billed as their biggest derby clash since the grand final of 1998, north shore rivals Gordon and Northern Suburbs slugged it out for supremacy at a vibrant Chatswood Oval last Saturday, with the Shoremen ending the Highlanders unbeaten run in style with a four tries-to two 24-13 victory. A try inside nine seconds from Reece Mau’u set the visitors on their way. But it was a staunch defensive effort that provided the platform for victory, frustrating a Gordon side that were averaging 44pts per match coming into the clash, before three second half scores got Norths the bonus point, and those precious bragging rights – for now.

Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from both camps…

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Earl Va’a (Northern Suburbs head coach):

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Earl Va’a – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

“I went into a lot of history during the week and it was good to hear all that. But our focus was solely on nailing our roles and executing our game plan. It’s always good to hear those stories from past players but worrying too much about history is not going to win you games, and I’m pleased to come away with the win this weekend.

“We haven’t been very good at starting fast, so when we scored that early I said to Zak [assistant coach Zak Beer] ‘Is that a good omen, or have we just jinxed ourselves!’ We had plenty of opportunities and they had plenty of opportunities, it was just one of those see-sawing games where nobody could string too many phases together. Both teams defences were bloody good and both teams were going hard at the ball, which meant that we had to commit more numbers to breakdowns. That meant we were sometimes out of shape, which meant we had to kick the ball away a couple of times.

“We were nervous going into half-time because we thought that we had about four or five chances in that first half where we didn’t come away with anything, and we felt we were a bit lucky to be seven-three up to be fair. We talk about always coming away with points when we’re in the twenty-two. So if we go back and review how many times we were in the first half and came away with no points, we need to ask the question why and keep on working on how we can be better in those areas. Those are learnings for us and we’ve got to make sure that in the future we nail those chances, because come knock-out time if you don’t take them you’re going home. 

“Our defensive lineout this week stopped their mauls. We pulled them down to ground nice and early and then set our defence and they weren’t able to launch off set-piece, which was good for us. Most of the game was played in the middle of the park, and when either team got into the twenty-two they turned over the ball. So it was a little scrappy, and if you’re a fan watching the game or you’re just new to the game you’re probably saying ‘Why are there so many errors?’. But if you’re a diehard fan you probably would have thought that was a great game.

“We were pretty lucky with that third try because our set-piece didn’t go as planned, but we still managed to hold the ball and get our forwards back on their feet and going around the corner. Then it was just a matter of shortening their defensive line, which happened, and then Maxie [Burey] put some good footwork on them a couple of times and ended up getting on the outside. Those things were critical for us, we always knew that we had to take our opportunities and that was one of them that we did take, but there were so many more for both teams. If you were watching both of us last week, us against Randwick and them against Souths, you’d be wondering what’s happened to our attack this week. But again, both teams defence was cancelling each other out.

“We’ve brought in a new attack system that they haven’t played before, which they’re enjoying, and we’re doing a few different things in defence as well. But you’ve got to take your hat off to the boys because it’s them that are out on the field executing it all. I couldn’t be more proud of them. These guys do their homework, are clear and want clarity on what their role is, and put the ownership on themselves and others around them to be better and to nail those roles. All we do as coaches is talk about our review and preview on a Monday night, run through what we need to nail off on Tuesday, and by the end of training on Thursday Harry [Burey], Gus [Sinclair], Sticksy [Nick Palmer] and Hugh Sinclair as well now, just make sure that everyone is clear on what we need to do to win. Once we’re finished on Thursday it’s up to them. We send them a few focuses on Friday for Saturday, and that’s something we can keep them accountable to when we review.

“This is a great competition. The level of play, the speed of play, and the fitness of some players in some teams is just incredible. I’m happy that I’m here and happy that things are going well, and we’re happy to get the win against the old foes.”

Darren Coleman (Gordon head coach):

Shute Shield season launch

Darren Coleman – Photo: Stu Walmsley

“We couldn’t get through them or round them or over them and they forced us into errors or we made errors. It was just a big red and black wall today, they were too good. We didn’t win any contacts on our carries, every time they whacked us they were stopping us at the point of contact so we just weren’t making metres. That makes it hard to find shape because they’re quick on the ball so you have to send another player in, and then your nine and ten lose confidence in what you’re trying to do, so it’s a bit of a snowball effect. Full credit to them, they lost three players in the first half and had no fresh reserves and they showed a tonne of heart and passion. They deserve that win.

“At half-time I thought we’d had the better of the first half if you take out that try, which was five seconds into it. I thought we were finally going to have some things stick and maybe go on with it in the second half when they lost a bit of momentum. I knew we had a strong bench as well so I was pretty confident but we just couldn’t get into our attacking flow. That said, neither could they. Bar the contest it was a pretty ordinary game to watch I’d reckon.

“I’d have to check the stats but we didn’t get any pay out of our maul today. They defended it differently to the way that anyone else has, they sacked it. So we have to go away and look at how they sacked it and when they sacked it but we weren’t smart enough. We’ve got some other options than the maul but we beat our head against a brick wall a bit by staying with it off lineout. There were a couple of scrums where we thought we were on the front-foot and the ball spat out or we ended up turning it over somehow, and we made some bad errors. There were a couple in backfield – kicks out on the full, a couple of dropped catches – so yeah, it wasn’t pretty.

“I always thought it was going to be a good comp, and I don’t think we’d earned the right to be clear favourites. We’d won some games and we’d won them well, but there was always going to be a dynamic switch when clubs got players back or injuries start to happen. We went five weeks without changing a player from the starting fifteen, and now some of those players are out and you have to reboot a bit. We’ve got great replacements don’t get me wrong, we can bring in some Super Rugby blokes instead. But the rebooting of cohesion is maybe taking longer than we thought, and that was the first time our cohesion was tested against a really good defensive team.

“In some spots we’re really deep, but in some spots like thirteen, fourteen and fifteen we’ve lost all our starting players in Lucas Price, Brandon Quinn and Jaline Graham, so that’s quite a bit of x-factor. We lost two props last week in Rhys Brodie and Peter Chanel Tagaloa, and then Jordan Goddard on Thursday. But one of the underrated players we’ve lost is our lock Ola Tauelangi. He’s our main lineout guy, he’s our main kick-off catcher and he wins our rucking award each week. He’s just a real work rate player. So that’s a fair old slice to deal with but no excuses, Norths were just the better side today.

“I did say I wanted a loss before the finals but I don’t feel good now that we’ve had one! There’s some things there that, as long as we take our lessons from them when we’re faced with that adversity the next time, we handle it better. So I’d probably still stand by that comment and I’d prefer to get it now than next week. Our challenge now is to make sure that it is one game only and look back and say ‘That was a hiccup’. But it doesn’t get any easier next week because Sydney Uni will be fired up after their loss today.

“We’ve got Uni and we’ve got Eastwood in those last three games, so two more dress rehearsals for the finals. We want to win the Minor Premiership so we have to win both those games, so effectively it’s finals come early. We’ll regroup and go hard next week against Uni and see where we’re at.”

Harry Burey (Northern Suburbs captain):

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Harry Burey – Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS

Our team has got quite a lot of new guys this year who have come in, and Gordon have a lot of new guys as well, and watching them be the pinnacle of the comp all year we knew this would be a true test of where we’re at, so it’s obviously pleasing to get a nice result there in the end. I think in the last four or five weeks we’ve conceded early so to get the first try ourselves that early does give you a little boost. I couldn’t even see where the ball went but Reece Mau’u was streaking down the left edge and how good was the finish? It’s almost like getting an instant head start because the game starts again but you’re already seven points up. 

“Being a smaller side, we always talk about not just matching teams that are bigger and stronger but taking the aggression to them and setting the benchmark I guess, otherwise we’re going to be on the back foot. So that was important. In terms of the attack I think both teams were frustrating the other a bit, no team really got the ascendancy going. But sometimes that’s what top of the table clashes are, it becomes a tight contest.

“The coaches never let us enjoy too much success at half-time, it’s always a case of ‘onto the next job’ and they probably make it sound like we’re on the back foot a bit! But I think the plan was to just see if we could put them under a bit more pressure. Obviously they love that rolling maul inside the twenty-two, so it was about trying to keep them out of range of that, which I think we did a pretty good job of and limited one of their main scoring opportunities.

“Last year our defence wasn’t that great. But if you’re down at Primrose Park on a Tuesday or Thursday this year the boys are always doing extras around defensive alignment or putting their bodies in front and making a good contact. They’ve taken pride in their defence and in doing those extras, which is obviously showing out on the pitch. If someone would have said that would be the final scoreline before kick-off we’d have taken it any day of the week. But we’re disappointed to let that one in at the end there, we just slipped off a little bit. As we progress into the competition, that’s the sort of thing that becomes the difference between winning and losing.

“If you’re going to go far in the competition you do need depth, but for the boys to play nearly a full game in two’s – Connor Winchester and Charlie Jeavons-Fellowes – and then come on and do a job in one’s, that’s unreal. That’s what club footy is about, you know you’ve just got to turn up for your mates and you can’t complain, you’ve just got to do your job. But that’s an unreal effort from them.

“That was the biggest Covid crowd we’ve played in front of all year, and it was absolutely fantastic. If that’s the crowd we can get in these Covid times to a game like this, imagine what it could be in a couple of years. Maybe one day this derby could rival the ‘Battle of the Beaches’, and how fantastic would that be?

“People can say that we may be one of the favourites now after this result but I think we are the sort of team that happily flies under the radar. We’ve definitely got no real superstars in our team, just a bunch of humble battlers that go about doing their jobs. If you look at some of the body shapes – Dave Henaway doesn’t look like a lock and I certainly don’t look like the most intimidating inside centre – but we’re just happy to go about our business.

“We’re probably going a little bit better than expected. But I read Craig Bellamy’s book at the beginning of the year, and if you look at great teams like the Melbourne Storm they never have a ‘rebuilding’ year, you’re still running out fifteen blokes every week to do a job. We’ll just keep turning up each week, and as long as we’re still running out a pretty good twenty-three, which we are at the moment, I think we can keep putting in some good performances.

“We haven’t thought too much about finals yet to be honest. A week ago it looked like we were losing against Eastwood and would be up against it just to make the six, so – and I apologise for the cliche – but we’ll just be taking it one day at a time. There’s so many different teams this year with a lot of new faces, so it’s just about showing up against Souths again next week and seeing if we can get the job done there.”

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