A top of the table clash against the Woodies – a great way to spend a Saturday arvo. In recent games only a handful of points have separated the 2 teams at full time – attitude often wins these battles and we had to be focused for the full 80.
The game started and the intentions were clear, both teams were putting the ball to the boot for field position. Sammy Vaevae’s was charged down by the Woodies tall timber and regathered to score the first points and it was 7-0 after only 2 minutes.
Again it was field position followed by ball retention, and after spending a number of phases working the Woodies line we won the penalty, took the lineout option and Mitch Lewis thought he’d etched his name on the scorer’s sheet but was robbed as the ref awarded us a penalty try and the scores were back level.
Centre, Jon Fakai was having some huge carries down field either bending, or breaking the Woodies defensive line, and with quick phase ball the Woodies got pinged in front for trying to slow the ball and we hit the lead at 7 – 10.
The Woodies upped the tempo and had a few back to back steals off our lineout. One of them was clean off the top on our 22 followed by three carries through the forwards resulting in a converted try and it was 12 – 10.
When we supported the ball carrier we were getting quick phase ball, good go forward and earning penalties as the Woodies looked to slow down the ball. When we weren’t with the ball carrier the Woods had a good conversion rate of turnover ball.
Fakai was being a monster and causing all sorts of headaches for the Woodies mid field, he had his hand in 2 tries just before the break. First he stood in the tackle creating an overlap and the Woodies centre slapped the ball down resulting in a yellow card penalty try. The second he drew the defence when Sammy Vaevae through a double pump pass and sent Alex Northam through a yawning gap and it was 24 – 12 at the break.
The ref blew the whistle for the resumption of play, and then blew it again moments later as Timmy Donlan crossed for a try under the sticks. Great way to open the second half; off the kick off the ball went wide to the left through a number of hands – a grubber infield by Sireli and Timmy carried it across from 20 out - that was 3 tries in 10 minutes and it stung the Woodies into life.
With Jimmy Vail being replaced at the break, we lost considerable height and weight in the piggies and the lead was quickly cut back to 31 - 17 after rolling maul off the lineout. The Woods captain and number eight started leading by example pulling off a monstrous hit on Johnny Wunder, and then repeated the douse on Brad Meaney. They were getting to the rucks and mauls in numbers and if we weren’t on the ball in support in numbers we were getting blown off it and loosing possession. Eastwood received a donation bonus point try off a forward pass and we had yet another 7 point game with about 25 to go.
The next 20 minutes was about resolute defence; Vinnie Baranyi and Will Cocker stepping up and setting an example, and the chatter in the backs kept our D tight across the field. At one stage we defended flat on our line across the full width of the field for 12 phases and the ball was turned over with a desperation pass out wide. Eastwood continued to have a mountain of possession and all the territory, but the defensive standard had been set.
To test our character and resolve heading into the last ten we were reduced to 14 men when Cocker was given a yellow and an early shower. Not long after that we had a scrum on our own line and loose ball at the back resulted in a converted try and 31 all with 5 to go.
We kicked deep off the kick off looking for an error and it came through pressure and defence on the right wing. The ensuing scrum just held, and again the big Jon Fakai opened them up carrying defenders for a good 20 meters before a one handed ball to Northam, to Chesters, to Sireli and try time and we are up 31 – 36 with 2 to go.
It was then a case of retention and we were doing a great job at recycling the pill, and then, nothing like a heart stopper when we gave the Woods the pill for the last minute.
Jon Fakai was huge for the full 80, and Vinnie Baranyi and Will Cocker led the way in the forwards.