Centurion Sinclair edges Shoremen home in derby comeback
Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS
Northern Suburbs have returned to winning ways with a one-point derby win over Gordon at Chatswood Oval, coming from behind to claim the Mortlock-Baxter Cup 22-21, thanks to a match-winning penalty from centurion Angus Sinclair.
When the Highlanders opened up a 21-0 lead inside 35 minutes with the Shoremen out of sorts, it looked like being one-way traffic. But a quickfire double before the break got Norths back into the contest, and despite a couple of rare misses from Sinclair off the boot, the flyhalf – playing his 100th 1st Grade game for his club from 100 appearances – had the last laugh, converting a third try before slotting home the all-important 3pts that got his side back to winning ways, and ensured bragging rights remain on the lower north shore.
A knock-on from the opening lineout was an inauspicious start for the home side but they made amends and then some inside the opening four minutes. A scrum penalty from the first engagement gave skipper Jordan Goddard the chance to pile on some early pressure with a kick to touch just five metres out, and when the Highlanders big boppers hit their straps there was no stopping tighthead Tristan Fuli from finding the line. A terrific sideline conversion from Reece Macdonald added the extras, and the Shoremen were already on the backfoot.
The upper hand at the set-piece and Norths’ ill discipline combined to keep the Highlanders at the right end of the field for much of the next 10 minutes, giving scrumhalf Jonny Van Der Velde the chance to maintain a constant supply of quality meat for his hungry pack to feed off. But as willing as his tartan cavalry were to hit the ball up, the well-drilled red and black defence stood firm and forced their opponents from coast to coast with little penetration, before an intercept from Sinclair on 14 minutes allowed the no.10 to kick deep and release the pressure valve.
However, another penalty at the breakdown, this time after good work from Mike Pavlakis, soon had Gordon back in prime position to strike. Putting their maul to good effect once more, they drove to within a few metres before momentum was quelled. But when the alert Van Der Velde peeled off the back and sniped through a gap, only to be held just short of the line as he looked to ground, referee Richard Manchee was on the spot to rule a high shot from Reece Mau’u that warranted a yellow card, and a penalty try as a result.
Two scores and a man down, Norths’ resolve and potentially fragile confidence off the back of those three successive reversals was being truly tested as the game entered the second quarter. But unusually for a side so adept at the basic tenets of the game, there were simply too many inaccurate passes missing their optimum targets, and a swathe of dropped ball or knock-on’s as a result, to provide them with any momentum on the rare occasions they did enjoy some possession.
They were given a bit of a let-off when Macdonald sliced another penalty opportunity straight into the in-goal, rather than pinning them back on their own line to defend another maul with one less body. And having returned to their full complement with Mau’u’s readmittance to the fray, they also required some nifty cover defence from Nick Duffy after a nudge in behind from the effervescent Macdonald almost fell into the waiting hands of Pavlakis for a third.
But you can’t keep a good team – or specifically a predatory halfback – down, when they are in the groove, and with just five minutes left before the break Gordon did strike again. A solid scrum was the platform, the Highlanders controlling position without putting their foot to the floor, and keeping Norths honest long enough for that man Van Der Velde to shift inside and smartly use the ref as cover before racing through a gap and over.
Macdonald did the rest and the Stags were about to go to the sheds with an extremely healthy 21-0 advantage, only for the rugby gods to suddenly conspire against them and gift the Shoremen the unlikeliest of lifelines. Sinclair’s restart was fielded by Macdonald, but as the fullback looked to return serve with a trademark boom off the boot he slipped on the greasy Chatswood turf. His kick ricocheted back off the chasing Brad Hemopo, and the no.8 ran through to dot down the loose ball for a vital score on what was his season debut, having just returned from a stint in Japan.
Points-machine Sinclair raised a few eyebrows when he somehow pulled the conversion wide. But the centurion soon made amends with a damaging charge into the 22 after the kick-off to get a suddenly vibrant red and black outfit back within range. Several dominant carries and a tap-and-go penalty from Duffy soon had them even closer, and prop Apolosi Ranawai was in position to power his way over the ruck and find the chalk for his third of the season. What a turnaround.
Having had the contest firmly in their control less than five minutes before half-time, only to go to the sheds 21-12 ahead, the second half got underway with Gordon needing to wrest momentum back their way. But it was Norths who returned with the bit between their teeth, and after a bit of see-sawing possession it was the class of Sinclair who did the damage, a beautifully weighted chip over the top and a kind bounce allowing Nathan Russell to pounce next to the posts to make it a two-point ball game at 21-19.
A nervous Chatswood crowd tried their best to reignite their stunned Stags, a scenario not helped by a rib tickler from a rampaging Russell on Robbie McIntosh that left the Gordon flyhalf heaving on his haunches in backplay. And to rub salt into their wounds, their previously dominant scrum then took a hit when Norths won one against the head, giving Sinclair the chance to edge the visitors into the lead for the first time from right in front.
Bizarrely, the stalwart produced another anomalous attempt and held his head in his hands in bemusement as the ball drifted inexplicably wide. But he was given an immediate shot at redemption when an under pressure Gordon tackled the man without the ball, and this time he was on point to put red and black noses in front with 20 minutes remaining.
The Highlanders passed up the opportunity to cancel that out from their next visit to the red zone, when a quick tap from Van Der Velde was spoiled when he spilt in a tackle by the alert Russell, with a routine 3pts on offer. You never want to curtail any player’s admirable desire to play what’s in front of them, plus hindsight is a wonderful thing when you look at the final scoreboard. But given the state of the game at that point, and the sway being enjoyed by their opponents, discretion surely had to be the better part of valour.
As it was, Gordon huffed and puffed in the closing quarter but just couldn’t rediscover the fluidity or ball retention to make any inroads, as both sides emptied the bench with players fading on a taxing pitch. And it was Norths who came closest to another score, the pacy Duffy darting through heavy traffic with gusto before failing to find fullback Matt Ryan off his shoulder with no-one home.
With something to protect and time running out the Shoremen played out the final period with adequate control. They frustrated their hosts with some staunch defence – the impressive Russell and hard-hitting flanker Boston Kerapa to the fore – while game managers Duffy, Sinclair and captain Harry Burey guided them around the park and out of danger.
It was enough to preserve their minimal advantage, 22 unanswered points turning this derby around and ending a three-game losing streak to kickstart their campaign. For Gordon it is a fourth loss in five, and they must be left to reflect on quite how they let this one slip.
NORTHERN SUBURBS 22 (Brad Hemopo, Apolosi Ranawai, Nathan Russell tries; Angus Sinclair 2 cons, pen) defeated GORDON 21 (Penalty try, Tristan Fuli, Jonny Van Der Velde try; Reece Macdonald 2 cons) HT 12-21 at Chatswood Oval
GORDON: 1. Mokani Fuavao; 2. Will Bremner; 3. Tristan Fuli; 4. Ola Tauelangi; 5. Jack Margin; 6. Brendan Mitchell; 7. James Lough; 8. Jordan Goddard (c); 9. Jonny Van Der Velde; 10. Robbie McIntosh; 11. Fraser Conway; 12. Liae Tuilagi; 13. Alesana Pohla; 14. Mike Pavlakis; 15. Reece Macdonald – Replacements: Mike Perks; Leigh Hughes; Francis Ieremia Saifoi; Oliver Arcus
NORTHERN SUBURBS: 1. George Thornton; 2. James Margan; 3. Apolosi Ranawai; 4. Dave Henaway; 5. Declan Carroll; 6. Boston Kerapa; 7. Brodie Leber; 8. Brad Hemopo; 9. Nick Duffy; 10. Angus Sinclair; 11. Reece Mau’u; 12. Harry Burey (c); 13. Nathan Russell; 14. Seb Cameron; 15. Matt Ryan – Replacements: Sam Kitchen; Jack Brewer; Dewald Dekker; Sam Shepherd; Gary Bautz; Winiata Cherrington