JR Henderson Cup Final: Clinical Wicks edge out Gordon
Photo: Ric McLallen
Randwick’s 4th Grade side were proof positive that grand finals are a different beast, turning around a 41-0 loss to Minor Premiers Gordon back in round 8 to edge home 15-13 against the Highlanders when it mattered, and claim a popular JR Henderson Cup victory at Forshaw Rugby Park.
Two tries in the first 25 minutes from Galloping Greens wingers Christian Nanai and Johnny Mitsias had opened up a surprise 12-0 lead, before Gordon hit back before half-time through Luke Lough. And the Highlanders took control in the third quarter with a couple of penalties putting them out in front for the first time in the match at 13-12. But Randwick rallied hard in the closing stages, and a Jack Harrison penalty was enough to see them home for a well-deserved and well-celebrated triumph.
It was Randwick who enjoyed the early possession, mostly inside their own half, as they looked to play their way into the game with plenty of touches on the ball. But they received a setback just four minutes in when fullback Cillian Monahan was forced from the field with an ankle injury after getting caught at the bottom of the ruck from his first counter-attack.
Gordon looked to play field position off a number of well-placed kicks from their man at the back Scott Pursell, but couldn’t get any pay off the lineout as Randwick managed their exits with calm control. The Wicks’ front-line defence and dominant hits were also forcing the Highlanders to the boot as they often lost metres in possession and couldn’t work the ball to the edges, and the scoreboard remained intact after the opening 10 minutes.
When Monahan’s replacement Ryley Angles-Corke was then shown a blue card and led from the field with a bit of claret on display, Randwick’s backline resources were already at full-stretch and in need of a reshuffle with three-quarters of the match still to play. But they almost concocted the first five-pointer of the match on 17 minutes, a damaging crash-ball from Sione Tovo getting them inside the 22 for the first time before quick hands out wide sent Kevin Keane away down the sideline, only for the replacement for the replacement to put a foot in touch.
Good pressure on the Gordon exit from the ensuing lineout kept them on the front-foot. And after a scything run through the heart of the Highlander’s line from outside centre Ben Duckworth, the forwards piled in to pick and drive their way to within inches of the chalk, only for some staunch goal-line defence to hold them out. But having sucked in bodies on one side of the field, flyhalf Jack Harrison spotted the overlap available on the opposite flank, and a couple of well-timed passes down the line sent winger Christian Nanai into the corner for the opener.
A penalty for not rolling away gave Gordon a chance to hit back inside a couple of minutes, but Pursell’s long-range effort fell shy of the uprights. And the Minor Premiers were left to rue the missed opportunity when Randwick added a second five-pointer in style from the restart.
Harrison’s 22-metre drop-out went deep and benefited from a few handy bounces before Pursell could regather and return the favour. His kick landed just outside the Randwick 10-metre line and into the hands of stand-in fullback Johnny Mitsias, who stepped and took off over halfway as the Gordon defence parted like the Red Sea, before hitting the accelerator button with no-one home to run-in a superb score.
Harrison converted to stretch the Randwick lead to 12-0 with three minutes of the first half remaining, and with Gordon having failed to throw a shot in anger in response. But back-to-back penalties had the Highlanders in good position to strike before oranges, and they took full advantage.
Taking the scrum from five metres out, the initial shove held the Randwick pack at bay long enough to allow scrumhalf Dan Rorke to delay his pass to a rampaging Luke Lough, and the man they call ‘The Fridge’ splintered a couple of myrtle green jerseys on his way to the line for a vital try. Flyhalf Matt Dainton added the extras, and it was game on.
When Lough burst through the line again shortly after the restart and found open field between himself and a quickfire second, it looked like matters would be level at the break. But a desperate scramble tackle from Harrison just about brought the powerful inside centre to ground, and the Wicks numbered up in support to force a turnover and keep their line intact as they headed to the sheds.
Suitably re-energised, the Highlanders returned with the bit between their teeth. Putting together their best period of phase-play thus far they patiently manoeuvred themselves into the red zone to earn a penalty, and Dainton slotted with ease to make it a two-point ball game at 12-10.
Now beginning to flex their attacking muscles and cut loose, centre Sam Franklin carried 40 metres into enemy territory to get Gordon in prime position again on 34 minutes, and his offload to the supporting Will Woolley looked to have sent the flanker away for the flag, only for a double-team tackle from Ben Howard and Ben Duckworth to chop him down short and force a knock-on for good measure.
Danger-man Lough was next to carry the fight, another barnstorming surge taking him to the edge of the 22, only for a courageous tackle from Mitsias to hurry a forward pass to the man outside. And the Randwick utility continued his fine match with another much-needed hit on Will Lloyd as Gordon turned up the heat off a scrum. But the pressure was relentless, and a ruck infringement in front of the posts gifted Dainton another three points to give the Minor Premiers the lead for the first time in the contest.
With momentum and the scoreboard now working against them, the odds were beginning to stack heavily against the plucky Galloping Greens as Gordon looked to put their foot to the floor and go away with it. But Randwick refused to buckle, regrouped, and kicked for home with a terrific period of play to get themselves moving forward with carries from skipper Sam Connor and replacement Ollie Barden to the fore, as they trucked it up with intent into the heart of the Highlander’s 22.
A nice snipe from Harrison got them within range on 48 minutes, and the big-boppers took over to take inch by inch towards the line before being held-up by some determined resistance from Gordon. But their pressure paid dividends, the ensuing five-metre scrum shifted infield and the Highlanders pinged for not rolling away, leaving Harrison to restore the lead at 15-13 with 10 to go.
And from there they were like men possessed. Showing some tidy inter-play, neat hands and good support lines they continued to take the fight to their favoured opponent in search of a knockout blow, rather than try to hang on to their lead. With Gordon visibly tiring their discipline became an issue, allowing Randwick to enjoy the lion’s share of territory, and they thought they were home and hosed when burly George Lolo powered his way over in the 56th minute, only to knock-on in the process.
A couple of reset scrums handily ran the clock down at the right end of the field for the Wicks before Gordon chanced their arm with a play-to-nothing to try and steal it at the death. A lovely cross-field kick in front of his own posts from Dainton sat up perfectly for Aidan Dowling to scoop up, step inside and pin back his ears to race over halfway. But just as the miracle play threatened to pay off, Wes Lolo reeled in his man and forced the recycle, and a timely hit by Harrison jolted the ball from the hands of flanker Josh Vinzenz, spilling it forward. The referee’s whistle signalled a well-deserved victory for the men from Coogee Oval, and a big smile on the face of a club legend looking down from above.
RANDWICK 15 (Christian Nanai, Johnny Mitsias tries; Jack Harrison con, pen) defeated GORDON 13 (Luke Lough try; Matt Dainton con, 2 pens) HT 12-7 at Forshaw Rugby Park
Randwick captain Sam Connor:
“It feels really good to win this, especially considering that a majority of the lads – including myself – probably thought they weren’t going to play this year with the Covid situation. We all thought it would be first and second grade only and the lower grades would maybe go off and play Subbies, so to actually play the season and go on to win it with this group of lads is really pleasing.
“We were confident that we could turn around that result against them in the regular season, mainly because in fourth grade you don’t know who’s going to turn up each week. So when we did lose to Gordon I think it was a very different team, and from that loss we went on to build a lot of momentum. Beating Uni twice since then was also massive for us, and we felt pretty good going into the game.
“Our fullback Cillian has been really important for us throughout the year. He had been nursing a hammy coming in so Thursday training was a bit light for him to make sure he could be here, but then he goes out and hurts his ankle in the first minute of the grand final. But it’s his own fault, he should have passed me the ball! Then Ryley comes on and goes off with a head knock that looked pretty bad too. But luckily we had a lot of replacements, and in Johnny Mitsias, a guy who had trained at fullback throughout the year and he was able to slip in very nicely and scores that lovely try, so it’s silver linings I guess.
“Typically, we’ve been starting first halves a bit slowly and had to grind them out a little bit, and we would have been happy going into the break at nil-all. But any time we got points we grew in confidence, and to be honest, after that second try I thought we could really go on and do some damage but Gordon stuck in the fight.
“We were confident at half-time that we could strike again. We realised that their twelve was a hell of a player and had just scored a good try, but we thought we could build momentum again. Slow it all down and go from there, which we did in the end, but it was a grind. We are lucky with this team to have a bunch of old heads, and they were able to keep us calm. We really did believe that if we could just hold onto the ball that we could march our way down there and get points. They had all the ball and all the territory after half-time but only scored two penalties, and we felt that if we got hold of it in the right areas that we could do damage and get the lead back.
“I was extremely proud of the effort from the boys in the last fifteen minutes, and the subs made a massive difference too, there was a good few replacements that came on and carried hard to make good metres. When I saw their winger pick up that chip and chase in the last minute I thought he might step the fullback and go the whole way, which would have been a hell of a try in fairness to them but would have sucked for us! Thank God Wessy [Lolo] chased back and look, I wouldn’t want to be tackled by that fella so I can’t blame them too much for knocking the ball on when they did.
“It’s a massive win for the club. It’s been a good few years where we’ve had really strong colts, which is great, but that hasn’t always translated into grade. I think we won a second grade Premiership two or three years ago but outside of that we’ve been pretty barren, so it meant a lot. Obviously, it’s the first year Sayley [Jeff Sayle] hasn’t been kicking around, and in the fourth grade coaching team we’ve got a lot of old heads in Joe Picone, John Catterson, Ian Holder and Allen Stutchbury, who were all really good mates with him, so it meant a lot to them and to the club. It’s also great to get a win in fourth grade because I don’t think we’ve won it since 2009.
“If first grade win a Premiership next year I’m more than happy to claim that we were an inspiration, but I think that might be a little bit of a stretch! But I know the club were really big in getting around us and we’re a proud club that hadn’t won anything for a whole, so I’m sure the lads will be pushing even harder next year across the board. I daresay that a few of those young lads playing fourth grade will be playing a bit higher next year and I hope they take that winning mentality with them.”
RANDWICK: 1. Billy Finch; 2. Nick Katsogiannis; 3. Drew Ferguson; 4. Jeremy Morkos; 5. Tom Weatherall; 6. Joel Ellis; 7. Sam Connor (c); 8. Sione Tovo; 9. Ben Howard; 10. Jack Harrison; 11. Christian Nanai; 12. Finau Makamaka; 13. Ben Duckworth; 14. Johnny Mitsias; 15. Cillian Monahan – Replacements: Ollie Barden; Tim Reeves; James Beaufils; Sosefo Smith; Kevin Keane; Alex Harrod; Ryley Angles-Corke; Jum Woodhill; Wes Lolo; George Lolo
To find out more about Randwick’s 4th Grade Premiers, click here for some light-hearted player profiles from skipper Sam Connor.
GORDON: 1. Kristian Souvaliotis; 2. Hugh Morgan; 3. Raven Nurse; 4. Luke Gardner; 5. Will Glascott; 6. Will Woolley; 7. Nick Tracy (c); 8. Josh Vinzenz; 9. Dan Rorke; 10. Matt Dainton; 11. Will LLoyd; 12. Luke Lough; 13. Sam Frankham; 14. Aidan Dowling; 15. Scott Pursell – Replacements: Sammy Milgate; Ben Wilkinson; Jamie Fletcher; Saul McCredie; Tom Carruthers
To find out more about Gordon’s 4th Grade grand finalists, click here for some light-hearted player profiles from injured skipper Lachie Archer.