Grand Final 2015
by Paul Treanor
Woodies Take Thirds and Firsts
It took a Channel Seven helicopter to get the Shute Shield to Concord. It took just one man to lift it after 83 minutes of Rugby and to take it back to Eastwood.
Grand Final day came early for our Third Grade side with a 10.50 kick off. As time drew near a group of interested observers became a little nervous they would be late to their appointment with destiny as the players had yet to come to the playing arena from the warm up ground across the road. Then they appeared striding in unison through the turnstiles and you could tell they had come to play and claim the Henderson Shield that they have been working towards since 21 March. It was the eyes. That look of determination that comes when you are in the zone and ready to take whatever the opposition was going to throw at you. It was just not the players but it was the same look on the faces of the coaching staff. Standing there watching them walk past you knew Eastern Suburbs were in for a torrid afternoon.
This was the the third time Eastwood would play Eastern Suburbs in 2015 and essentially it was a different side each time as Easts tried to put together a team that could take the Shield from the Minor Premiers. With just the one loss for the season Eastwood were not about to make it two and didn’t care who was in the Easts team.
From the kick off Eastwood clicked into gear and were seamless in transition from defence to attack. Every player knew what they had to do. Easts started as expected throwing everything at the Woods who repelled these early attacks and made ground with and without the ball. As Eastwood started to dominate field position the cracks began to appear in the Easts defence. After a period of applied pressure and the referee allowing a generous advantage Jack Warfield capped off a successful return to the football field, after sustaining a serious injury last season, by crashing over for the first try of the Grand Final. Jack Tourish made no mistake with the conversion and to the relief of his coaches and supporters it was a good omen. He had brought his kicking boots with him.
Eastwood buoyed by this try turned it up a notch and were soon in for their second try scored by Siona Fangia after some excellent team work in the lead up phases. Again Jack was on target and our dominance and field position had been justly rewarded.
Eastern Suburbs had no answer and couldn’t find a way through Eastwood’s solid defence that kept moving up and knocking them down. With half time rapidly approaching Eastwood was again on attack in Easts half when another penalty was awarded and Captain Nick Johnson had no hesitation in electing to kick for goal. If successful it would mean Easts would need to score at least three times to get ahead of us. Jack Tourish struck it well but it hit the upright and bounced back into the field of play. Jack must have been confident of kicking it because he had given his mouth guard to Maddie Aitken (much to the dismay of Maddie’s mother) before taking the kick and had to wait until a break in play to get it back. Maybe in the sock next time Jack? As the Half Time bell rang out Easts again gave away a penalty and having nothing to lose Jack took a long range attempt into the wind but it faded to the left and the Woods went into the break up 14 – 0 in what was a fair reflection of their domination.
Eastern Suburbs knew they had to be the first to score in the second half and put everything they had into trying to get on the scoreboard but they could not break the impregnable Wall of Eastwood. The pressure Eastwood applied was eventually rewarded with a penalty within kicking range and this time Jack Tourish made no mistake and the Woods were out to a 17 – 0 lead with about 20 minutes to go. With Eastwood well on top Eastern Suburbs through everything they had in a final last stand and were eventually rewarded with a try. The Woods quickly replied with a Ben Coady run down the sideline to score wide out. Jack with another fine strike added the extras making it three from three conversions and one from three penalties for an outstanding afternoon with the boot. Easts added a late consolation try to add some respectability to the scoreline but it was already a lost cause and Eastwood run out winners 24 – 12. It was then over to Captain Nick Johnson to lift the Shield, winning his second Henderson Shield in three years, and letting the celebrations begin. “Clinical” was the word from a still smiling Coach when asked back at the Club on Saturday night what he thought. Clinical, yes it says it all.
Congratulations to all the players, coaches and staff on an outstanding season on your well deserved triumph. And thanks for giving us such entertaining season of enjoyable Rugby. At the end of the day Thirds would be the only Minor Premiers to carry their form through to be crowned Premiers.
Eastwood First Graders were up for a big game against Manly and on Thursday night were excited about getting out there on Saturday and make is a double not only for our retiring champions Hugh and Ben but also in memory of Maurie Ellem who had been part of the Eastwood family for a long time.
Meanwhile Manly were trying to keep the lid on it over at Manly Oval with the weight of Club expectations for their first appearance in the Grand Final since 1997 weighing heavily on their shoulders. Then came Friday and if the expectations of a generation wasn’t enough up stepped Local Member Tony Abbott with another Captains Pick releasing a letter of support that would put an Albatross around their necks.
With Maurie looking down from the best seat in the house we got our most important break of the Grand Final when Matt Lucas won the toss and elected to kick off leaving Hugh Perrett the decision of which way to run. This decision would prove to be a match winner in the final minutes of the game.
With both teams having reputations for their attacking flair spectators rightly had the expectation we were in for a Grand Final featuring tries. However it would be the wind and defence of both sides that would be the deciding factors of the game.
Manly got off to a strong start and were 6 – 0 up after five minutes, including a 47 metre bomb. The impact of the wind was most evident during a 13 minute period when we struggled to get out of our 22, however Manly were unable to add to their score. With determination and a period of possession Eastwood pushed their way towards the Manly goal-line. At the 36 minute mark Manly incurred a penalty within kicking distance and Ben Batger made no mistake slotting it over. At 6 – 3 down heading towards half time it was looking like Eastwood had seen off the worst Manly had to offer. On the stoke of half time Manly won an Eastwood lineout and after a couple of phases were given a penalty in front of the Eastwood posts. Matt Lucas made it a 9 – 3 lead at the break. Manly, like many of us on the stands, wondered if 6 points would be enough with Eastwood having the benefit of the wind for the final 40 minutes.
The second half started as expected with Eastwood setting up camp in Manly’s half and soon earned a penalty right in front and Ben Batger made it 9 – 6. The game plan of playing in the Manly half was working and again intense pressure brought another penalty about 30 metres out again in front and again Ben made no mistake levelling it up for the first time in the game. As happens in Rugby momentum shifted to Manly for a short period and after they made some progress we infringed allowing Matt Lucas to put Manly back in the lead with a penalty into the wind. The arm wrestle continued with Eastwood looking the more likely to score the first try going close on a number of occasions only to be denied by the Manly defence. Finally the pressure told and yet another penalty was awarded to Eastwood within kicking distance. We were back to even.
With the scores locked at 12 – 12 Eastwood made a break down the left hand side and looked like scoring when it was called back for a forward pass. With a little over two minutes on the referee’s watch those of us who had recorded the game started to worry we would miss the extra time when yet another penalty was awarded to Eastwood right in front. Ben Batger’s last kick for Eastwood looked like it would win the game when to everyone’s astonishment he missed. The up side was it wound down the clock closer to full time with us in possession in Manly’s half. With Full Time getting closer and closer the continued pressure from Eastwood forced Manly to infringe and the Referee’s had no choice than give Eastwood a penalty. Matt Gonzalez knowing we had a penalty up our sleeve speared a sharp pass to Jai Ayoub 40 metres out. Jai cool as you like lined up and kicked his second field goal of the season to give us the lead for the first time in the game with just over a minute to go.
Just when the Eastwood faithful felt it was safe to put their angina tablets back in their pockets the game wasn’t over. Jai kicked Manly’s restart into touch and with a minute to go Manly got possession from a line out and had one last throw of the dice. With both sides out on their feet the Wall of Eastwood repelled the exhausted hoards from the seaside. They not only kept their line in tact but more importantly maintained their discipline denying Manly the penalty their were hoping to get. After two and a half agonising minutes and 15 phases Matt Lucas was out of options and threw the ball to Sam Lane who attempted a field goal to send the game to extra time. But unlike Jai’s there was no second chance. The kick went wide and the game was over. Eastwood Premiers for the second year in a row.
It was the most intense game of Rugby played this season and players on both sides had nothing left in the tank. It was hard to find someone either side that didn’t deserve a man of the match award, but somehow they did and it went to Hugh Roach.
Again congratulations to all the players and coaching staff for another exciting and entertaining season on Eastwood Rugby. Victory was well deserved though you can appreciate the disappointment felt by the Manly Club who only fell behind on the scoreboard with one minute to go.
Well another successful Grand Final and another successful season comes to a close. Now the long wait begins before the 2016 season starts. By any measure 2015 was a very successful season for the Eastwood Rugby Club on a number of levels. It was not just the winning of two premierships and coming agonisingly close to the Club Championship. It was the overall week in week out performances that made this a great year for the Club and so enjoyable to watch.
All four grades put in strong performances week in and week out winning 60 of the 72 games played across the 18 Rounds. The other 11 Clubs would have dreaded playing Eastwood knowing there was every chance of heading home without a win. One of the season highlights was winning all four Grades back in Round 8 against Sydney University.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the first time Eastwood contested the Shute Shield Grand Final. Although beaten by a Wallaby side playing under the guise of Randwick it was the foundation for better things to come. The Club will be without two of its dominant players over recent years in our Captain Hugh Perrett and our highest point scorer of all time Ben Batger but you can be assured we will still be the Club to beat across all Grades. It will be an interesting contest to see who replaces these champions of the Club. It will also be exciting to see what new players emerge as stars of the future. In such a significant year can we win the elusive Club Championship and Shute Shield double? We will all have to wait 12 months to find out.
The long wait begins.