From the sheds… Preliminary Final – Gordon v Randwick
GORDON 15 (James Widders-Leece, Ahmu Tuimalealiifano tries; Rodney Iona con, pen) defeated RANDWICK 14 (Triston Reilly try; Ben Donaldson 3 pens) HT 0-3 at Pittwater Rugby Park
With the rampant Minor Premiers taking on a Randwick side that had ended the regular season with an 81-24 reversal at the hands of Eastern Suburbs, the smart money was definitely on a Gordon victory. However, the Wicks fronted up and then some to make life very difficult for their highly-fancied opponents on a day when conditions were also a factor. Leading 6-0 just after half-time, the Galloping Greens were on course for a major upset that would shake-up the finals series, before the Highlanders finally found their attacking rhythm to lead 12-9.
But when Triston Reilly went over for another five-pointer in an impressive season to restore Randwick’s advantage with just four minutes remaining, it looked like they had pulled off an unlikely triumph. However, showing the mettle that marks them out as a Premiership contender, Gordon executed with perfection in the closing minutes to win back the restart, milk a couple of penalties, and give Rodney Iona the chance to send them into the semi-finals as the no.1 ranked side.
Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from the Minor Premiers…
Darren Coleman (Gordon head coach):
“It was a pretty difficult week to coach to be honest. We’d really prepared hard and built up the Eastwood game, which was a massive one for us to win the Club Championship. We knew that if we won that it was ours and we celebrated like we’d achieved something. So to win the Minor Premiership the week before, then the Club Championship and the Roden Cutler Shield the next week, and then go into a dead rubber where there was absolutely no advantage by winning or losing because of the closeness of the comp and with no home ground advantage, was difficult. I tried not to exude the worthlessness of the match to the players, and I thought they did a very good job in defending with the spirit they did to hold out a desperate and dangerous Randwick team.
“It was just such a really strange game, I literally watched rucks to see who got up more than I watched the scoreboard. When Joey Walton got mowed down to score that try and landed awkwardly on his shoulder, I lost it a bit in the coaches box, and it was quite a crowded area where I was watching it. People thought I was emotional around the match sealing try, but all I wanted was for Joey Walton to get up and play next week! I’ve never been in that position in the Shute Shield to play a meaningless game in a play-off game.
“The ridiculous thing about it is that there’s no other advantage by winning and staying ranked as the number one team, because of the other four teams that were going to be a potential opponent you could argue whether or not we have the easiest game this week or the hardest. We’ve got no home ground advantage and we’ve got no scheduling advantage. The only perceivable advantage I felt we got is that if we were still level at the end of extra time on Saturday, we would go through because we were the number one ranked team. If we play a hundred minutes of footy and they can’t split us, that’s the only advantage we got by winning that game by a point.
“I didn’t think the wind was an overly significant part of the game. There was a strong northerly but we scored more points into it. We had it and scored zero, they had it and scored twelve, so there’s different thoughts around whether the wind is an advantage or not. I know Rat Park pretty well, and we played a key semi up there when I was at Warringah against Manly, and played really well into a massive wind in the first half and led. Everyone thought we had it in the bag but then Manly came back out and played amazingly into the wind as well. So I don’t look into that too much.
“The try-saver from Rodney Iona on Ben Donaldson was a perfect example of our mantra this year, which is ‘one more tackle’ – make them make one more pass. If we can just keep getting up and making them make that one more pass, or making them go that extra phase to get over the line, sometimes they’re going to botch it. We could have been further down at half-time, but you could argue that if we’d caught a few balls we might have scored a few points as well, so we weren’t stressed.
“Over the season we’ve pretty much covered every scenario. We’ve led games and let teams back into it a bit, we’ve been behind and come back, and we’ve held on at the end in the last two weeks, and that’s been great for us. We came back against Eastwood with six or seven minutes to go to score and then defended our line and killed the game, and it was similar at the weekend. We were behind, kicked a goal to get in front and then killed the game, so it’s been a good prep. The team has a confidence that we just need ten minutes of good footy and we can score three tries, so no lead is too big to charge. And even though a game may be looking perilous we can crack it open pretty quickly if we click.
“We probably only played for ten to fifteen minutes in that second half and we scored both our tries, but were we going to go on with it? I don’t think so. Randwick had too many guns not to fire any shots and they were playing for their season. They’re not a club that are going to quit with twenty minutes to go, and they have so much long-range strike power – how many times have they scored tries this season from sixty or seventy out off an intercept or a failed grubber kick that rebounds off a shin and into their hands? They’re very good at the opportunistic try because they’ve got so much skill and speed.
“There’s positives in losses, and you can spin a psychological tale there if you want but we lost against Norths – we played poorly, we were flat and got pumped – and the next week we put out our best performance of the season against Sydney Uni because we got the reality check we needed. If we lose against Randwick we’re still alive, and we’re back to where we were after Norths and maybe not believing everything about us and with our egos put in check. So I wasn’t as stressed about the result because it didn’t mean anything to us. All I was stressed about was being injury-free.
“Did I think we’d come back with four minutes to go and win? I don’t know. I’m glad we did and I’m glad we showed some grit. But did that gloss over some frailties in our game where the team think they’re bullet proof now? I don’t know. The psychology of twenty-three different guys that all think about things differently is a little tricky. So I’m glad we came back to win, but I didn’t think it was essential if we did or didn’t.
“How we closed it out was good, and how we finished it off again after that. Although we fumbled a kick-off we then got the ball back and pretty much choked the clock for a couple of minutes, and did that well. Against Eastwood we didn’t do that. We had the same period of time to kill but conceded a penalty and they got one last shot, and luckily we won the lineout. So that was a great learning from us, and the beauty of the Eastwood win to the Randwick win was that when we did have the lead with a couple of minutes to go we were more composed, structured and sharper in how we ran down the clock.
“It’ll definitely be a great game against Easts, and the teams are very evenly matched. I’m not reading too much into their result against Eastwood. I thought they deserved to be up a half-time. There was a reasonable wind behind them, but it was a couple of long-range tries to Eastwood with some individual brilliance, and I thought they definitely had the better of the game. They were playing some quick-ruck ball and had Eastwood under pressure and deserved to be bigger leaders at half-time rather than fifteen-all.
“But then the weather kicked in and that went from a five-point advantage to a fifteen-point advantage I believe in the second half. You couldn’t run the ball out of your own end because of the rain, and you couldn’t kick it out of it because of that really strong southerly. Eastwood did exactly what you should do, they just put it down there and let Easts implode. If there’s anything Pauli would have been disappointed with it was their ability to execute under pressure in their own ‘d’ zone in the second half, and they gifted Eastwood a couple of tries. What I find with teams though is that they can have some catastrophic bungles like that one week, but they don’t usually do it two weeks in a row, they’ll usually repair it. So I wouldn’t have minded them saving those clangers for us!
“There’s probably two key things we’ve got to do. One is stop Lalakai Foketi, who is in a rich vein of form. His go-forward and his tackle break has been exceptional of late, and it’s going to be a great centre battle. The second is all around ruck speed. Jack Grant is a great halfback but like any halfback he thrives off front-foot quick ball, and you have seen what the Easts attack can do if their ruck speed is high – as it was against Randwick. But… I don’t think they’ve seen a team that goes as hard at the ball as we do. So it’ll be a battle between the team that wants quick ball, and the team that is good at stopping the other getting that quick ball.”
Jordan Goddard (Gordon captain):
“The good thing about the group of guys we have at the moment is that they take every game on its own merits. We were well aware of the Randwick side. Obviously, they wouldn’t have been happy with the result they had against Easts, and in terms of their roster they’re a talented side so we knew it was going to be a tough game for sure. They were playing for their season, so they were going to be desperate and hungry to make sure they stayed alive in the comp. That combined with us being off slightly, allowed them to stay in the game to the end. We knew that there would be a level of intensity that there hadn’t been throughout the year with it being finals, so I don’t think complacency was an issue. Subconsciously, knowing that we had a second bite at the cherry if we lose may have been in some player’s minds. But it wasn’t something that was spoken about, or that we were conscious of as a group.
“Our set-piece throughout the game was a little bit inconsistent, and there were some issues with the lineout and not adjusting to the wind. We had some good scrums and some not so good, and not having that solid platform to work off put us in a position we haven’t really been in before, and that did hamper our attacking source to start off with. But I suppose what was good was that we were still able to win the game without having that go our way. I can’t remember exactly what the stats were in terms of our possession but I would imagine it was pretty low, and what ball we did have we did turn over pretty quickly and were back on to the defensive mindset. It was a little bit frustrating, but I’m really proud of the guy’s efforts to find a way through it and still secure victory.
“The wind was a factor and it did take us a little while to readjust to it, but we should have been a little bit smarter. I think our first three lineouts we tried to go towards the middle or the tail and we got pinged for not in straight. Randwick put up a lot of box kicks and let the ball sit up to make it contestable, so you’ve just got to adjust to the conditions and we took our time doing that.
“We were confident at half-time. We were aware there was a bit of work to do, it was just about understanding what the conditions were doing in terms of the wind and getting back to trusting ourselves and making sure that we exit well. That’s something that we’ve done really well this year, getting out of our own half and playing down the other end and putting pressure on teams in those positions. We also had to stick to our attacking structure, which I think we did do well in that second half and that gave us the ability to score tries. Defensively we’d been under pressure, but we knew that if we could get the ball and cherish it and stick to our patterns and systems, that we would come away with some really good opportunities.
“We had some really good chat behind the posts after they scored late on. We had a clear strategy around what we wanted to do and we executed it, going up to contest the restart and winning the ball. We knew what we wanted to do, it was just a matter of getting out there and executing it for the last four minutes. We’ve trained for the last couple of weeks around what to do if we were in this position, so we were quite prepared for it, and this is probably one of the best teams I’ve played with in terms of motivation, will and desire. I feel like we can do anything if we’re mentally switched on and we can execute.
“As much as we take the confidence out of what we’ve done this year, finals is finals and it’s different footy in terms of being cut-throat. It doesn’t matter if you win by fifty points or one, you just need to win the match. We’d trained the last few weeks around different scenarios, and it was really pleasing to see that if we need to go to those plays again if we’re in a similar situation, that we know we can be calm and execute it, and that gives us confidence for the games to come.
“I’m not sure how to read into the whole finals footy thing yet. It does come with a bit more intensity and there is a bit more desperation and desire in the games, and amongst the players on the field and in the crowd. Having that winning feeling regularly throughout this year and knowing how to win, whether it’s good or ugly, and the culture that creates, is what got us over the line. I’m sure we’ll be better off for the weekend’s result and the whole experience. If we look after ourselves, I feel that we can put our best foot forward and do anything.
“I think it’ll be a cracker against Easts. We played them in round one, and a lot of the talk in pre-season was around them and they were looking like one of the favourites. I know we got the result on that day but we haven’t played them for thirteen weeks, and I’m sure they’ll be a better team than they were and I know that we are. It’ll come down to who best executes their strategy and who wants it the most on the day. We’ll have a clear process around how we want to play and where we can attack Easts, but we’re just looking forward to the opportunity. I know the boys are really looking forward to it, and to playing a semi-final for the right to go through to the final and add to that storyline of Gordon rugby and what we’ve done this year.”