Eastwood v Manly
Manly Oval – 12 August 2016
Well, what can I say. If I did not see it with my own eyes and then watch the replay on TV the next day I probably would not have believed it. There was one team who were consistently strong losing only 3 games all year and finishing 8 points clear of 2nd place. And then there was another team who had been struggling for form over the last few weeks. A team that had fallen from 2nd to just scrape into the final 6. A team that was really not given any hope of getting past round one of the semis. But alas, someone forgot to tell Jed and his boys because this underdog Eastwood side came to the beaches and produced the upset of the year in a rousing performance that, in the end, really could have gone any way. But there was really only one deserved winner.
Before I go any further can I just say how terrible Manly Oval is. Looks like a great cricket ground, but as for watching Rugby it is atrocious. For those of you who read One Eyed Woodie stories of the past you might recall me mentioning that from the grandstand it is easier to see the lawn bowls than it is to watch the rugby. Thankfully there was a replay on TV so I could get the details of players involved because it was nigh on impossible to pick any details up from where I was sitting.
And then there was the ground announcer who decided to announce us as Southern Districts as the boys ran out. If Jed’s Juggernauts weren’t fired up already this would have given them just the tonic to go out hard.
And finally, to the Eastwood faithful who attended the match. We may have been outnumbered but only just. Eastwood fans have always been the best travellers in the comp and they proved it again on Saturday. And the response by past and present players to the “tunnel” that Manly created was just perfect as they streamed out on to the ground so that our boys were not going to feel that they were on their own. They were going to see the great support this team has and they were going to play for them.
So that was the lead up. Now to the game.
The Woods were out of the blocks at a rapid rate. A 5th minute penalty to Eastwood was followed by strong attack and scrummaging which saw the Manly #2 in the bin to write a 500 word essay on how stupid he was. Not long after that as the Eastwood scrum was on the march to the line the ref had no choice but to award a penalty try after Manly collapsed it.
10 nil up after 10 but then Manly started to muscle up. At the 16th minute they were pressing hard when Goodall, our man mountain winger, rolled the dice and had a crack, intercepted the pass and ran the 80 metres to score Eastwood’s second. A point a minute for the Woods and when the Manly sin bin culprit returned and handed his essay in to the ref the Woods had scored 14 unanswered points. And when in the 20th minute Eastwood scored another penalty those who dared to dream were now starting to wake up to the reality.
But Manly were not minor premiers for nothing and they started to string a bit of possession together, mostly on the back of 5 penalties against Eastwood. They finally put some points on the board, much to the relief of the local supporters.
Then came a pivotal moment in the game. In the last 5 minutes of the half Eastwood were well on attack deep in Manly’s territory when a perfect ball to McDougall in open space was coughed up and a certain try went begging. If this was not hard enough to swallow Manly then scored shortly after with only a minute before the break. It was a 14 point turn around. What could have been Eastwood up 27-7 all of a sudden became 20-14 and that great thing called momentum going to Manly.
I am sure at the break the Eastwood brains trust were confident in the game plan and they probably stressed the need to score first in the second half. Unfortunately that was the same plan that Manly had and they were the ones to pull it off. Mind you it was off the back of a forward pass that could have been seen from the moon (but not from the grandstand mind you). Fortunately the conversion was missed and Eastwood maintained the lead at 20-19.
When I was covering the game regularly years ago Eastwood were renowned for have shocking 3rd 20’s, that is, the first 20 after half time was always their worst. It looked like this was going to return. The agro had gone. The muscling up had gone. The desperation and passion was not as evident. So our good mate Fabian Goodall (now there’s a name that sounds more like an F1 racing driver than a rugby player) decided to step up and give the boys something to shake them back into the game. Old Fabian must be a master at the casino because he rolled those dice again and plucked off another intercept to put Eastwood up 25-19.
This did stir the boys on and they rumbled their way back into Manly territory after some huge defence from 5/8 Blake Sutton, the biggest 5/8 in Eastwood history behind Pierre Hola. The pressure paid off as front rower Lagudi smashed over for the try. To the second of many key potential turning points of the game the conversion was charged down so Eastwood’s lead was only 11.
The teams traded penalties (33-22) when, in the 63rd minute, another big call was made. Eastwood #15 Liam Windon took a high kick and Manly’s number 6 clocked him as he was falling. The ref had no hesitation but to bin him. Now some may say that the binning was a bit harsh but of course you’d never hear me say that. With the numbers advantage, a great midfield break, good controlled agro from Jed and his forwards, Tom Hill finally put Eastwood into what you would think would be a match winning 40-22 lead.
With 10 to go the players decided that the game had not been anywhere near dramatic enough though my dicker ticker was telling me that there was drama a plenty. Manly received a penalty in Eastwood 22 and as they were shaping to boot for touch they decided to do a tricky little tap kick which the Manly goose then knocked on gifting Eastwood with a scrum. But Gonzo decided to get into the drama capers as well knocking the ball on from the base of the scrum. 2 minutes later Manly score to bridge the gap back to 11.
And the drama didn’t stop there because after the try was scored Eastwood #7 Piukala, who had been having a cracker of a game, was sinned binned for allegedly putting a late shoulder on to the try scorer after he touched down. Now I do not know what game that boofhead of a ref was watching but it clearly was not the one that we all saw. I know that our mate Tevita would never do a thing like that and what he was actually doing was trying to congratulate the try scorer on his amazing effort with a bit of chest pump celebration. These refs, they really need to get to know these players better and realise what is actually going on.
So, not only was Eastwood a man down, Manly were awarded a penalty from the kick off. But the huge spirit of Eastwood lifted for one last time. Manly had to score twice and Eastwood just needed to hold them out for as long as they could. Pressure finally told, however, and Manly scored to reduce the deficit to 6 with only 1 minute to go.
After the kick off Eastwood maintained amazing composure as Manly started to work their way back up the field in pursuit of the try that would steal victory from the gallant Woods. But fittingly it was a hit by Skipper Gillespie that forced the Manly knock on and that was game set bingo. Eastwood win in the upset of the year 40-34. I was spent, the players were spent, the Eastwood fans were nutso. But the best thing? Silence from the Manly camp.
What an incredible match. Despite the ref doing his best to make it all about him, in the end the players settled the score and the best team clearly won on the day. Big Jed Gillespie played his hair off as he guided his pack around the park. He stopped everything that came his way. His partner in the front row Hugh Roach was brilliant with some smart darting runs. The loosies fell away a bit early in the 2nd half but for the rest of the match it was like they had Duracell batteries up their butt – they just didn’t stop. The back line was strong, and while they hadn’t been up to their prime in the past few weeks they showed that they can match it with the best in the comp. Blake Sutton had a blinder, in particular in defence as he rattled the Manly counterparts. Turns out I was sitting in front of Gonzo’s mum which traditionally means that we give the man of the match to him. But unfortunately, though he had a cracker, I think he’d agree that it wasn’t his best. Instead, anyone that scores 2 tries in a semi final deserves the prize so Fabian “Red Bull Driver” Goodall takes the cake.
Eastwood live to fight another day and they will meet Northern Suburbs at North Sydney Oval this Sunday (Warringah host Manly in the other game). I don’t have to say this to the Eastwood faithful but get on down there and watch the might of the Blue and White knock off another high flyer and book their spot in the Grand Final. And I have it in writing from Monster, “First win on Saturday, they can go all the way!”.
See you up the back of the grandstand
One Eyed Woodie