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Georgie's Match Report - Rnd 11


Georgie McHugh's Match Report - Round 11


I awoke on Saturday morning in a little bit of a fog, following a lunch the day before that lasted late into the evening. Momentarily confused at what day it was and the attendant commitments, I was quickly snapped back to reality as I heard rain falling on the roof. Ah, Saturday! Despite checking with the Bureau of Meteorology every
day until filing last week’s report and confidently predicting that it might be dry, the heavens spectacularly opened in Sydney and a sodden North Sydney Oval was the stage for the always much-anticipated Battle of the North.

Norths made much of the fact that their props were back from the Waratahs, alongside a couple of crucial inclusions from the professional ranks. The Highlanders welcomed back Joey Walton to partner James Armstrong in the centres. Will Kaye came back into the team at fullback and Ben Pollack was entrusted with
the crucial pivot role in the atrocious conditions. However, the real interest was on the front row, with Liam Usher, Jay Fonokalafi and Tristan Fuli out to assert their growing reputation in the competition.

After an agonising one-point loss in 2nd Grade, the 1st XVs were greeted with North Sydney more closely resembling a swimming pool than a footy field. From the opening whistle, Gordon steadily marched down the field and Ben Pollack registered the first points with a well-taken penalty from 35 metres.

DSC_4153On the fifteen-minute mark, Norths mounted a sustained attack. They did very well to hold the ball for so many phases. But, Gordon’s defence was up to the challenge that forced the home team side to side looking for a weakness to exploit until they gave away a penalty whilst in possession five metres out. From there the
Highlanders started to turn the screws on their hosts as they fought their way into the opposition half. Pollack had another attempt from the same distance he kicked his first penalty but was unable to get the same footing as with his first attempt and pulled the ball. The miss left Norths still struggling to clear their lines and when a
clearing kick was fielded by Armstrong on his own 10 metre line and then sent skywards by Pollack, Norths were unable to gather thirty metres out, allowing Pollack to field his own kick before putting Armstrong away to score. With the conversion attempt hitting the post, the score was 8 – 0 to Gordon after 25 minutes.

Oli Arcus took the ball cleanly off the kick off, which was no mean feat in the conditions, about 30 metres from his own line and Gordon appeared to be well set up for a ruck to clear their lines and launch the ball back into their opposition’s half. But, despite having a couple of big forwards in place, Norths counter-rucked
magnificently to get the ball back and rumble own the line. Despite all of the possession and dominance, Norths against the run of play immediately got the score back to 8 – 5 as another heavy shower passed over the ground, which proved too much for Norths’ kicker to convert.

The Highlanders had a number of chance in the final ten minutes of the half as the Gordon set piece turned the heat up on their opposition. The much-anticipated scrum battle was essentially a no contest as the men in tartan decimated Norths’ pack with a number of penalties awarded in their favour. When Norths were able to
win their own ball, they were getting it on the back foot, which was not the ideal way to play on the wet track.
Gordon’s best chance came from a lineout 15 metres from the line. As the ball was secured by Cam Wood and the rolling maul thundered towards the line, Norths’ halfback burrowed in from the side on the maul and ultimately came up clutching the ball when the maul collapsed metres from the line. On another day, this might have been considered to be worthy of a stint on the sidelines. But, despite happening five metres from the assistant referee, with the referee on the other side, nothing happened. Perhaps the officials’ communication devices had been affected by the torrential rain.

DSC_4325After half time, it seemed that the crowd essentially exclusively looked towards the Mollie Dive Stand as Gordon spent most of the second stanza in their attacking half and lay siege to Norths line. As the scrum continued to dominate, Norths were unable to escape. Seven minutes into the half Gordon were awarded a scrum penalty on Norths’ feed ten metres out from the line. Will Kaye took over the kicking duties and raised the flags to take the score to 11 – 5.

That was end of the scoring for the afternoon. Apart from desperate defence from the home team and several 50/50 calls that went against the Highlanders, the score could have blown out. The most curious was a clearly collapsed maul as Gordon had charged ten metres and were only a metre out. A penalty try and a yellow card
could easily have been the outcome for the desperate action.

As is often the case with games where the dominant side is unable to capitalise on the scoreboard, a sting in the tail was on the cards. As the heaviest rain of the afternoon smashed down, Norths threatened to nick the game. Pollack saved what could have resulted in a try from a speculating hack forward from near halfway, as his face saw the ball into touch with three minutes to play. Then will time already up, Norths won a line out on the quarter line before Armstrong’s ferocious tackle on Henry O’Donnell shunted the Norths man back 20 metres and caused Norths to lose the ball at the ensuing ruck. Gordon recovered the ball through Brandon Quinn and Joe Snow  threw back to Walton to kick the ball eight metres to the line to end the game. But, drama was not done. Walton “kicked” the ball three metres off his shin, before the referee found a Norths knock on and blew full time.

DSC_4445The men in tartan were able to hold on for the narrow win to secure the Baxter-Mortlock Cup and bragging rights before the sides meet again in the penultimate round of the season. Not enough can be said about the work of the entire forward pack as they dominated in the wet and heavy conditions. The pack ended up with seven scrum penalties, which was testament to their dominance. Jack Margin and Johnny Akauola were veritable pillars in the lineout as they continued to spoil Norths’ throw and Milan Basson and the returning Prez Tufuga was enormous with their ball carrying and defence. The Highlanders are now a game clear in the top four as they
continue a tough month of clashes.

DSC_4600This weekend, Gordon host Manly in another crucial top of the table clash. The Marlins were well beaten in round 5 and there is little doubt they will be more than motivated to reverse the result. I have once again checked with the Bureau of Meteorology and can say with great confidence … actually, I won’t jinx it again. Get down to Chatswood to support your team. It is not too late to get a home ground pass to join the Clan in 2024.

Until the next time we meet, make mine a Grants. Up Gordon!
Georgie McHugh

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