Eastwood Semi Final Preview
By Paul Treanor
The Woodies Voice
This Saturday Manly Oval
The game of rugby can be a funny thing. A home semi final for all grades suddenly became a trip to the sea side for the right to play in the grand final next Saturday. With all four grades playing this Saturday at Manly Oval we need to transport our much feared Woodies Voice to the difficult to get to and find a parking spot Oval that will have a huge home town support base for the first semi final played at Manly in recent memory. The Marlins faithful as pumped and we will need to counter that influence with as much blue and white sounds to ensure our teams get across the line. The only up side for the players is they will be playing on a pitch that will have more grass than the sad dust bowl Millner has turned into this year.
All teams have a real chance of making the grand final repeating last year’s epic achievement. The loss of Ben Batger and John Grant for this weekend will be a blow but with the exceptional depth of the club we have the players to cover these losses. They say timing is everything in life with Brad Curtis returning this week from his injury suffered in the Souths game in Round 17 where he put in an eye catching performance even if it lasted only a few minutes.
Meanwhile Colts continue their finals campaign at Forshaw Park on Sunday with two games that will test their skill and commitment.
Good luck to all six Eastwood teams in their quest for a grand final place. All games are must wins as there are no second chances. Only winners will play next week as four teams are reduced to two. You can expect all games to be hotly contested with seasons on the line. No one wants to hang up their boots this close to the finish line.
Saturday Manly Oval
4th Grade Vs Manly 10.15 am
Fourth Grade continued on their winning way last Saturday with a 24 – 12 win over West Harbour. This week it is Manly, who finished third but were beaten by Warringah 19 – 0 last week.
A timely return from overseas saw Dave Sutton take his place in the run on side last Saturday and he will again be in the centres this Saturday. The only change to last week’s run on side is Daniel Minto coming into the front row for Heath Toon.
The one time the two teams met this year Eastwood had a come from behind win 26 – 22. It was not the teams best game with many of Manly points coming from Eastwood errors. Manly had a 29 – 19 win over West Harbour in the last round of competition and so history shows there is not much between the two sides. Both will come to play and it is should be a great contest to get things off for the day.
3rd Grade Vs Warringah 11.40 am
Can they do it at Manly Oval? Yes they can and they did it for the second time this year. Eastwood Thirds showed what they can do when they put their minds to it taking care of Manly 36 – 22. The upset win sees Randwick eliminated and an appointment with Warringah this Saturday. A team that has proven to be a stumbling block for Eastwood this year. The two clashes this season has seen narrow wins to Warringah, the last one just two week’s ago when the score line was 6 – 10 on a wet afternoon at Rat Park. Thirds conceded it was not their best effort with too many dropped balls and mistakes putting too much pressure on themselves.
Joel Whitlock who played well in his grade debut moves to the bench with the return of Sam Needs after filling in for Seconds last weekend. Tiueti Asi is out of the pack and is replaced by Dave Piukala while Tai Liani comes into the side for Tyler Spitz allowing rookie of the year Sione Fangia to move to the centres.
Warringah had a big win 53 – 20 over Randwick last Sunday and will be hard to beat at Manly Oval. They will go into the game confident from their two victories but they have yet to play the top Eastwood Third Grade side. With the team looking solid and Ferris and Bennett running things from the halves Eastwood will not only give Warrringah the game of the lives but also give themselves every chance to defend their 2013 premiership next weekend at Concord Oval.
2nd Grade Vs University 1.15 pm
Eastwood took care of West Harbour, who finished with a flourish, last Saturday 55 – 33 at Manly Oval. Eastwood scored nine tries in their win and had the kickers been on line the score line would have been a truer indication of Eastwood’s dominance. This week it is University, who lost to Gordon 25 – 31 in a game they were expected to win.
Robert Lagudi returns to the side allowing Sam Needs to rejoin his team mates in Thirds. With the injuries to Ben Batger and John Grant in Firsts Ben Shorter has been given the nod to move up a grade and his place has been taken by the experienced Tyler Spitz.
Eastwood have come away with a draw (31 all) and a win (38 – 15) over University in their two clashes. The win was at University Oval and was a solid dominant win. University will be well aware of this result and will be looking to change the outcome this Saturday. The game will be one of the highlights of the weekend as the defending premiers will not want to miss out on grand final day. The undefeated Woods will have other ideas and will want to take it on step further this year and turn a minor premiership into a premiership. Both can’t be there and so both teams will be up for a game to the death.
1st Grade Vs Manly 3.00 pm
A game we lost rather than a game won by Southern Districts last Sunday sees us now up against the minor premiers Manly. A game many predicted as this year’s grand final has come a week early. Whether this week or next Manly is a team we need to beat to be crowned premiers and it might as well be this weekend.
Last Sunday we again invited the opposition to get first points and with some soft tries and poor options we had given them 25 points before half time. Too many early points that meant at the end of the game penalties became match winners. The team is yet to play it best game this year and there is no time like the present to play it.
Manly have been the stand out side all year and have their hearts set on winning the premiership as a send off for departing Phil Blake. Eastwood have been a stumbling block in recent final series and they will be wanting to make the most of home ground advantage. Phil Blake has stated he wants to embarrass Eastwood after Manly’s 55 – 24 loss in last year’s semi final. Eastwood will take this as an added incentive to take the game to the Marlins. Blake is also trying to play the underdog card despite the season Manly have had taking all before them. Manly however have the added burden of the minor premiers curse on their backs. Something they are not used to and it will be interesting to see how they deal with the added pressure.
Manly had a 42 – 22 win over Eastwood in the only clash this season and will be confident they can do it again on home soil. Although the score line looks like a dominant win it was goal kicking that was the major difference. Manly scored five tries to Eastwood four (only one converted) and so with more balance in the kicking department a closer result will be on the cards. A closer scoreline adds extra pressure that Manly have not coped with that well this season losing to Easts and Warringah in close ones.
The side that played Manly at the end of May was without Hugh Roach, Jared Barry and rising star Michael Kovacic in the forwards. It was only, player of the year, Pat Sio’s third game in the top grade while it was just the second start for Jai Ayoub. Mick Snowden was unavailable and his place was taken by Colts 1 player Matthew Gonzalez. With these players in the side it will be a vastly more experienced side that will take on Manly this Saturday.
This week we will be without John Grant, who had a season ending injury last Sunday, and Ben Batger, who is hoping for miracle from the medical team that could see him play again this season. The side has Ben Shorter, who came on to replace Ben Batger last week, on the wing while Brad Curtis, returning from injury, has been selected at full back.
Manly have also made two changes to their side for this important clash. Jacob Woodhouse has his first start at full back while Mali Hingano comes into the centres.
It will be a big ask but that is what semi finals are all about. The Coach is well aware of where the game can be won and lost and will be ignoring the talk coming from the other camp. The team who can rise to the occasion, limit their mistakes and handle the pressure will advance to the grand final. You can expect Manly to try and dominate with their big pack and line speed, which Eastwood will counter. It will not be a pretty game but more a war of attrition as both packs will be wanting to dominate before unleashing the speed out wide. Not a game for the faint hearted but a game Eastwood is very capable of winning. It could well result in a replay of last year’s grand final if University is able to get on top of Southern Districts on Sunday. Both games as each way bets.
Forshaw Rugby Park Sunday
3rd Grade Colts Vs Manly at 11.50 am
A good win last Sunday over the strong Northern Suburbs side 19 – 10 has set up a clash with Manly who beat Southern Districts 17 – 5. Manly was Colts Thirds first loss of the season and the team will have memories of a game they let get away from them when they lost focus on playing and concentrated on decisions made by the officials running the game. Manly stuck to their game plan and won 20 – 12.
Eastwood will need to get back to worrying about the game and not the officials if they are to make amends for this loss. Eastwood have the stronger record and have only lost three games all season. A win and they are in the grand final.
2nd Grade Colts Vs University at 1.20 pm
Eastwood had a tough tussle with Manly last Sunday running out winners 18 – 5. This week it is University who also had a close win, beating Southern Districts 22 – 18. Both games between Eastwood and University have been close affairs this season. University have won both. The first clash was 35 – 22 while the second was a closer 5 point result 34 – 29.
Eastwood have shown enough form this season to challenge University for the right to play in next week’s grand final. The challenge will not be easy as University have almost had a mortgage on the Colts competition for years and have the experience for these big games. Eastwood have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It should be a great game of rugby.