2010 Flashback: Ruthless Shoremen upset below-par Eastwood

Photo: SPA Images

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Northern Suburbs have maintained their impressive start to the new season, downing a disappointing Eastwood 28-6 at a sunny North Sydney Oval at the weekend. Keeping an unusually misfiring Woodies attack scoreless in the second half, the Shoremen gave evidence of the significant strides they’ve taken in the off season both physically and mentally, as they controlled a game which they never looked in danger of losing. Having now downed two finals favourites in a row following their defeat of West Harbour last week, the question is just how far can this Norths team go?

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When the reliable James Foote kicked the visitors into a three point lead after a tight first 10 minutes, you could be forgiven for expecting Eastwood to take charge and unleash their talented, albeit inexperienced, backline. After towelling up Warringah 43-17 last week, the Woodies were strongly favoured to make it two from two against a side that has struggled to make an impact in 1st Grade in recent seasons, and finished a lowly 10th last year.

But a mere two minutes after the deadlock was broken, the Norths of 2010 gave notice of the different beast they aspire to be this time round. Punching holes in the Woods’ twenty-two, backrower Seti Tafua went close in the right corner before the quick hands of scrumhalf Steve Evans moved the ball to the opposite flank, where Norths had numbers and lock Ben Matwijow angled his run to score. Flyhalf Pete Smith – making his 1st Grade debut – suffered some initial stage fright and pulled the conversion wide. But the efficiency of Norths’ attack and its clinical execution was a portent of what was to follow.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I can’t help but ponder whether the decision taken by Eastwood after 20 minutes to take the lineout rather than a shot at goal, had a greater effect on the outcome of the match than at first glance. Eschewing the 3pts in an admirably positive manner, the failure to come away with anything from the exchange seemed to sow the first seeds of doubt in their offensive mindset. And having successfully repelled multiple phases on their own five metre line, it was also a huge pat on the back for Norths and their defence.

The visitor’s frustrations shone through a few minutes later when, again unable to breach the resolute home line, Foote popped over a field goal. It did edge them into a one point lead on the scoreboard, but the message it sent out to their opponents was merely a compliment.

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Flyhalf Pete Smith enjoyed a fine 1st Grade debut with 13pts off the boot – Photo: SPA Images

The Shoremen missed the chance to hit back immediately when Smith failed to convert a penalty given for a high shot on the industrious Evans. But just after the half hour, a repeat of the earlier successful play put them across the line once more. Winger Cam Crawford showed some nice handling skills to get them in position, Matwijow and fellow lock Rory Walton did the hard yards to suck in defenders, and when the ball was sent down the line once more it was hooker Scott Podmore’s turn to touchdown.

Smith atoned for his previous misses, slotting beautifully from out wide, and after an unremarkable period of tit-for-tat kicking from both sides, the half drew to a close with Norths 12-6 ahead.

Eastwood head coach Billy Melrose ripped into his underperforming charges at half-time, imploring them to ramp up the intensity and get some energy into their flat performance. To say he was a picture of frustration when they then conceded two penalties in front of the posts in the opening minutes after the restart, would be a polite understatement. They earned a reprieve from the first when Smith hammered his effort into an upright, but he made no mistake second time around and Norths’ grip on the game tightened.

A rare opportunity for the boys from TG Millner eventuated on 50 minutes, but was uncharacteristically wasted. A clearing kick upfield posed more of a threat with each rotation of the ball as the Woodies lightning winger Cam Mitchell took yards out of the covering defender Scott Podmore, appearing to be favourite to get there first and earn a clear run to the line. However, we’ll never know as a rush of blood – let’s call it youthful exuberance – led him to shove Podmore in the back, forcing the hooker to the ground and the referee’s whistle to diffuse the attack.

From that point on, Norths were completely dominant. Their forward pack was immense, fronting up at every ruck, driving the Woods backwards and forcing them wide to try and pick up scraps on the fringes. The backrow worked tirelessly, consistently out-enthusing their opponents and forcing turnover ball. As for the locks, I can only guess that new forwards coach Scott Fava fed them raw meat before the game, such was the ferocity and intensity of their play.

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Eastwood try-machine John Grant was kept quiet by the Shoremen’s defence – Photo: SPA Images

Eastwood had plenty of possession in the second half but they either didn’t know what to do with it, or weren’t allowed to if they did. A half-break from John Grant – an unusually peripheral figure in the game – was turned over through pure aggression, and the vocal barrage that followed was symptomatic of the balance of power in the match. Norths were clearly up for it, while the Woods looked like they’d walked into a battle they simply weren’t prepared for.

Conversely, when the Shoremen got into enemy territory they invariably came away with points. Two more penalties punished by Smith in the 65th and 68th minutes stretched the lead, and when Eastwood prop Barry Fa’amuasili was sin binned for the latter offence, the game was over as a contest.

Five minutes before the end, the visitors added insult to injury when an overthrow on their own lineout was pick-pocketed by the alert Steve Evans, who trotted over by the posts. The extras were converted by Smith, who had found his range off the tee to add to his admirable efforts kicking from hand.

A miserable day for the Woods finished with a 28-6 scoreline in favour of their hosts, but with three missed kicks and a knock-on from Junior Kolikata in the last minute while grounding the ball in-goal, it could have been much worse. Norths are now two-from-two and on this evidence, there will be a few sleepless nights for the boys from Gordon before next week’s Rivalry Round clash at Chatswood Oval.

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NORTHERN SUBURBS 28 (Ben Matwijow, Scott Podmore, Steve Evans tries; Pete Smith 3 pens, 2 cons) defeated EASTWOOD 6 (James Foote pen, drop goal) at North Sydney Oval – HT: 12-6

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Norths’ coaching think-tank: (l-r) Justin Tamsett, Grahame O’Donnell & Scott Fava – Photo: SPA Images

POST-MATCH THOUGHTS:

Northern Suburbs forwards coach Scott Fava:

“We looked at everything that happened last year with the guys and we felt that the first thing that needed to be rectified was their fitness levels. So we grabbed Andrew Hull from Eastwood, who I’d worked with last year, and we really got these guys fit, and you can see through the way they’re playing the game and the confidence in knowing they can go for eighty minutes now as opposed to last season.

“I guess I know what the Woodies are capable of out wide with their free-flowing game, so I really put the emphasis back on the guys to stop the offloads, and with that focus they were able to do that well. We wanted to put pressure on the inside backs and make sure that if the ball was going to get out to those guys like Johnny Grant out on the wing, that it was flat ball under pressure.

“I think our first half was pretty ill-disciplined, so I think we’ve got to work on that. There were a few occasions where we didn’t work hard enough in attack and let them penetrate our tackle contest and eventually gave up some easy penalties, and they got some momentum and we were on the back foot. I don’t think we put enough pressure on them and the scoreboard reflected that in the first half.

“You can’t look too far ahead, we’ve got to look at our performances and grow from here. The final’s 30 weeks away and this competition’s split into two halves, you’ve got the first half and then you get the Super Rugby players back. Realistically, we’ve only got 2-3 guys that could come back so we’ve really got to build a team that can penetrate that half of the season. It’s about building now and getting up to speed and making sure that when that competition starts, we’re ahead of the game and producing performances where they have to come up to our standards.”

Eastwood head coach Brian Melrose:

“Where did it go wrong? It went wrong when the other team turned up to play and it looked like we left our energy in last week’s performance. There were many areas that I wasn’t happy with but basically, we were just being beaten to the punch on energy and on enthusiasm at the tackle contest. Essentially, we were going for the higher risk options, not doing a lot and Norths were far better than us.

“You’d say we’re normally a team that can attack reasonably well and it was a darker day in that area and that’s credit to the other team. They did a good job and thoroughly deserved their win. No excuses, we were thoroughly outplayed and it’s back to the drawing board on Monday.”

Northern Suburbs captain Nick Lah:

“We’ve had a solid start, we’re just trying to look at each game, look at our processes and try to focus on ourselves each week. Most of the squad have been training two to three sessions a week since November, so hopefully that will pay off as we go on through each round and into the second half of the season.

“Our big focus when we’re out there is the defence, and it’s really pleasing to keep the Woodies try-less in that second half. We’ve still got a lot to improve on. There’s still a lot of dropped ball and missed tackles and we’ve got to look at those little aspects, keep improving on them and looking at our processes and improving ourselves each week as we go. We’ll enjoy tonight and look at Gordon for next week, that’s all we’re focused on.”

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NORTHERN SUBURBS: 1. Nathan Rickard; 2. Scott Podmore; 3. Nick Lah [c]; 4. Rory Walton; 5. Ben Matwijow; 6. Seti Tafua; 7. Carlos Blanco; 8. Mat Lamont; 9. Steve Evans; 10. Pete Smith; 11. Cam Crawford; 12. Chris Moore; 13. James Lew; 14. Junior Kolikata; 15. Ben Borg

EASTWOOD: 1. Simon Norris; 2. Chris Hill; 3. Barry Fa’amuasili; 4. Tom Alexander; 5. Jared Hanna; 6. Gareth Palamo; 7. Hugh Perrett [c]; 8. Locky McCaffrey; 9. Mick Snowden; 10. James Foote; 11. Cameron Mitchell; 12. Sione Piukala; 13. Tim Bennetts; 14. John Grant; 15. Barney Wood

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on April 20th, 2010

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