Grand Final Key Match-Up – Jack Margin vs Tim Anstee

Photos: Andrew Quinn & Serge Gonzalez

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The first of our key match-ups ahead of tomorrow’s fascinating Shute Shield decider will be fought out in the second row, with Gordon’s Jack Margin and Eastwood’s Tim Anstee fighting for dominance at the lineout – an area that could be particularly crucial if the predictions of rain bear fruit – whilst offering plenty around the park.

Margin is one of those battle-scarred Highlanders to have come through the nadir of 2017, a season in which Gordon finished bottom with 11 losses from 11 and the concession of 1000-plus points, to being a central figure in their revival under Darren Coleman and his coaching team. If you’d told him two years ago that he’d be lining up for a Shute Shield grand final in 2020, I’m sure the affable giant would have fixed you with a steely glaze and asked if you were taking the proverbial. So imagine the pride and excitement he feels about the chance to supplement the achievements of their successful 3rd Grade and Colts 2 sides and be a part of the club’s illustrious history.

Facing off against him is one of the most impressive rookies of the season. Fast-becoming a star on the World Sevens circuit with Australia, Tim Anstee’s Covid-enforced reversion to his roots at junior club Eastwood has been nothing short of a revelation, with his athletic prowess and skill-set leaving many to wonder exactly how many positions he could play in. He’s not quite sure himself, but he’s had a lot of fun trying to find out on the Woodies road to the finals in his first year in 1st Grade.

The contest between the two, at both set-piece and in the loose, could be an intriguing sub-plot to the game’s bigger story. Behind the Ruck caught up with both this week to gauge their views on the battle ahead.

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ON THE SEASON SO FAR AND MAKING THE FINAL:

Jack Margin: “We had a few close games throughout the season where we pulled through and the Minor Premiership was right down to the wire, especially after our loss to Norths. But that was great for us as a team. Because we were winning we probably weren’t reviewing the one percent factors as hard, and Norths taught us so many lessons in eighty minutes so it has been invaluable that loss. It really gave us a reality check as well and reminded us just how tough the Shute Shield is.

“It is pretty surreal, it hasn’t really sunk in yet to be honest! If you had asked me three years ago I would have said there was no chance, but here we are. The buzz is really big around the place, we have made a lot of the old boys and FOGS (Friends Of Gordon) really proud, and you will see those supporters out in force on Saturday. For most of the lads this is their first Shute Shield final, so there is obviously a lot of nerves and excitement at the same time.

“It’s crazy to think that we have been training for almost 12 months for this, so I’m just glad all this hard work has paid off in getting us here, but there is still a job to do. Training week is normal for us, with just a bit of added excitement and buzz around the playing group. It’s been straight back down to business after the semi-final, and to be fair, COVID does make it quite hard to be social as a team.

Jack Margin_Gordon v Two Blues_2020_AQ

Jack Margin is 6ft 7in and 117kgs. Consider this as you look at this photo! – Photo: Andrew Quinn

“Seeing our 3rd Grade and Colts 2 sides get up really motivates us boys. I don’t think there is a better feeling in rugby than winning a Premiership, so its a huge drive for our team. Obviously we got to see how hard the boys partied afterwards as well, so it was good to see them drown all their hard work before the Bronco tests in a few months! I think seeing other teams in your club be winners just creates a strong vibe around the place. We are now the only team playing this weekend so we will have all grades and colts supporting us as well as our usual supporters, so I know we will have a big Stag Army.

“DC summed it up really nicely the other night when he said that as a coach the hardest job is to ensure you are at your peak every week, and especially for a finals match. I think we have coped well considering we don’t have many experienced finalists in the team and we have had to come through difficult challenges, especially against Randwick when our lineout was not functioning at its best and we had some injuries so we had to adapt on the run. I guess we won’t know if we are the real deal until after the grand final.”

Tim Anstee: “We’ve probably flown under the radar a bit, which is fine. We lost a couple of very winnable games but that’s footy sometimes. The team has the confidence that if we do play our best footy then there’s no reason we can’t win games regardless of the opposition. You want to be winning finals footy regardless of where you finish or if you have a second chance or not. We had a strong preparation heading into the game against Easts, and although they ahd won convincingly the week before and had a lot of Super boys playing, we knew if we stuck to our game plan we’d come away with the goods.

“Last week against Norths was a gruelling game and went for a hundred minutes. It was wet, cold, and pretty miserable! They’re almost the funnest games though because you rarely get to play in those conditions. It was always going to come down to who could play the territory game better and convert points when they were on offer. The stakes were high and we were probably lucky that we did come away on top. But there wasn’t actually that much running due to the amount of knock-ons and scrums, so the bodies aren’t too bad. Recovery has been a big focus but we are making no excuses this weekend. 

“I think the belief has always been there but for it to actually come to fruition is pleasing. Making a grand final is special and it’s something us players are really looking forward to, but it’s been all business to be honest. We played Sunday and we were back into training on Monday to kick-start the week. It’s been pretty quiet so far with a lot of time spent on recovery, analysis and clarity moving forward. It’s about working on that little detail at this time of the season. Everyone is pumped at Eastwood and you can really feel the energy. The club has a proud history and we will make sure we do what’s required to finish the job this weekend.”

Tim Anstee_Jack Margin_Eastwood v Gordon_2020_AQ

Our two protaganists fight for possession in the recent clash at TG Millner – Photo: Andrew Quinn

ON EACH OTHER, THE LINEOUT BATTLE, AND THEIR DEMANDING SET-PIECE COACHES!:

Tim Anstee: “I played my junior footy and colts with Eastwood and have always wanted to come back and give grade a crack. Sevens has been put on hold at the moment with all the travel restrictions, so fortunately Tim Walsh released us to play fifteen’s and all the boys have really loved it. I’d played fifteen’s growing up but hadn’t played since two colt games in 2017, and I’d been out with some injuries and then COVID hit so I hadn’t played for a long time! I was eager to prove my worth in fifteen’s and really wanted to contribute to the team in whatever position. I probably see myself more as a six but am happy playing anywhere. I just love playing rugby!

“Clyney [Andrew Clyne] is cool, calm and relaxed but can give you a good rev up if you need it! He’s obviously been here before so we are grateful to draw on that sort of experience. Set-piece is never easy in the rain and wind but it’s the same for both teams. We’ve got a couple of plans in place and will see what we are dealt with this weekend.

“Jack is a smart rugby player and big body. He’s their lineout caller and runs a tight ship there. We are going to have to be smart ourselves this weekend and really back our ability. Work rate will be a big one, but so will tactics come lineout time.”

Jack Margin: “I’m really happy with the season I’ve had but i think the real heroes here are Tim Rowland our S&C, and Al Robinson our physio. They manage our loads really well and look after us post-match, so it’s a credit to those guys that I’ve been able to play consistent games. The faith shown from DC and Liam is much appreciated and I hope I repay them with the way I play. Liam and I chat quite a lot about lineouts, new plays, defensive lineouts – the whole lot. He has been awesome and lives for the set-piece, but if we have not had it functioning on the weekend he is not the bloke you want to see on a Monday night. His minimum standards are extremely high, and he isn’t afraid to let you know if you stuffed up.

“I think Tim has been really good for the Woods this year. Obviously coming back from playing Sevens to jump into the second row probably isn’t where he thought he would end up, but he has been solid for them. He plays a lot like a loose forward, but is still really strong in set-piece, especially his lineout’s. Obviously his work rate is extremely high and he is extremely quick around the pitch, so you have always got to watch him when he has the ball. As for his lock partner Charles Granger he is a fellow coastie like myself, and a great competitor. He is also their go-to lineout man so he plays a huge role for the Woods and is extremely similar to Anstee, with a high work rate and great line speed – as you would have seen last weekend against Norths. To keep up with those guys we will just have to work extremely hard around the field.”

ON THE GAME:

Jack Margin: “It’s a bit hard to prepare for the weather to be honest. I have always thought a meteorologists job is pretty easy because ninety-nine percent of the time they are wrong, yet we all still listen to them! You just have to adapt on the day, and both teams have had experience in the last two weeks of playing wet weather footy. I’m sure everyone would rather a nice dry pitch, but beggars cant be choosers.

“The main takeaway you can have from the game against them three weeks ago is to expect a battle from the kick-off until the final whistle. You can’t get much more motivation than a grand final so it will be a good contest. I think this game is won on tackle efficiency and discipline. They have some big mobile carriers that we have to bring down early to stop that front-foot ball, and obviously discipline is another one. We know how good Tane Edmed is at slotting the key kicks in the big moments so we have to watch that.

“The guys are definitely nervous, but if they weren’t nervous it would mean they didn’t really care. I think there will be a nice slow build throughout the week so we can all turn up to be our very best on Saturday. It would mean the world to the club to win a Premiership and would wrap up a really big turnaround. But we can’t think too far ahead. Saturday 3pm we have a job to do, we can’t be thinking about 5pm just yet.”

Tim Anstee_Eastwood v Two Blues_2020_SG

Anstee bagged a hat-trick of tries against the Two Blues in his run-on debut – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

Tim Anstee: “Gordon were really good in the recent game we played and credit to them. They’ve got really good structure, a well run set-piece, a strong kicking game and some dangerous backs. It was a great game but we probably gave them too much of a head start and will have to be better come Saturday arvo. Last time we really piggy backed them up the field so discipline will probably be a big one too. I think the ruck will also be hotly contested and something we are going to have to be conscious of.

“There might be some nerves come Saturday but everyone is really excited and ready to embrace the opportunity. Gordon finished first and had a really impressive season, so we having nothing to lose this weekend and will give it a red hot crack. It will be bloody special and something everyone will cherish for sure if we win. All our focus is on preparation at this stage and if we can get that right and implement what we want, then the result will take care of itself.”

THE COACHES VIEW:

Darren Coleman: “The players that were here during the dark times of 2016 to 2018, they’re the ones that I get the greatest pleasure out of watching enjoy the good times, and Jack was one of those. He’s performed his way into being one of the premier locks in the league. He’s super-athletic, runs our lineout, and is just a really good team man.”

Ben Batger: “Playing lock but could also play backrow or wing. Another Eastwood junior who we haven’t seen a lot of recently due to Australian Sevens commitments. Brilliant athlete who looks like Tarzan and actually plays like Tarzan. Having him in the team means we are essentially carrying another back.”

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For a complete set of grand final player profiles from each coach click below:

MEET THE TEAMS: GORDON with Darren Coleman

MEET THE TEAMS: EASTWOOD with Ben Batger

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