Match Report – Parramatta v West Harbour First Grade – Merrylands RSL Rugby Park

Following last week’s comprehensive away loss to Warringah, the Apprentice is apprehensive. We should be able to beat West Harbour, but can we?

West Harbour kick off to the north, and the initial omens aren’t good. While the Two Blues’ record for copping a score against them after the kick-off still stands at the seven seconds established against Gordon earlier this year, the boys turn the ball over and West Harbour, rushing upfield, get a penalty. They take the kick, and the score is 0-3 with only a minute gone. A couple of minutes later Parra gets a penalty, but the touch kick doesn’t gain a lot of ground. In any case the lineout is lost, with the ball passing half a metre over the hands of the highest jumper, and gathered by Wests who go close to a runaway try.  “Clancy of the Overthrow” is the mutter around the Polota-Nau Pavilion.  Shortly after, Wests get another penalty near the Parra line, with the kick taking the score to 0-6.

And so it goes, for the first stanza, during which Parra are defending desperately. Wests are running straight and hard, steaming onto the ball, and breaking the Parra line. Parra manage to stop an attack literally in the goalmouth and get a relieving penalty, but Wests storm back, get yet another penalty close to the Parra line and, with ten minutes on the clock, we are down 0-9.

Nearly fifteen minutes have elapsed before Parra get a few phases in attack, resulting in good pressure and a penalty 20 metres out, which Jaline Graham kicks to put Parra on the board and reduce the deficit: 3-9. A couple of minutes later, with Parra keeping the pressure on, Senio Toleafoa goes over in the south east corner, and Jaline slots a difficult conversion: 10-9.

Now the match settles back into more of a tussle, with the boys restoring a bit of the missing composure that saw them leaking penalties in the first ten minutes. Both sides are getting penalties, and Parra is now forcing a couple of turnovers. The boys are spreading the ball, but there’s a lot of side-to-side movement and not much forward progress (as the late great Rex Mossop used to say, on his way to winning yet another tautology-of-the-year award).

However with about 25 minutes gone Wests charge down a Parra clearing kick (possibly unintentionally, given the resonant “ker-donk” as the ball strikes the Wests player), but as a result Wests mount a raid ending with “stacks on the mill” in the Parra goalmouth. Has there been a try? The ref says there has, although how he’s seen through the heaving mound of bodies is anyone’s guess.  The conversion, from straight in front, is good, and Parra surrender their narrow lead: 10-14.

President Brian may be hearing the sounds of wheels falling off, because his advice to the boys is getting steadily louder. And, just before half-time, Tyrone Viiga is binned for repeated infringements. The penalty goal takes the score to 10-17.

Half-time, and the only entertainment is the ref blowing his whistle for the benefit of an empty field. I guess even whistleblowing takes practice.

Second half, and Parra kick off, but it’s out on the full. And in Parra’s first lineout the spirit of Clancy of the Overthrow has possessed Sefo Setefano. Not a good start. However the boys steady and, with five minutes gone, Waldo Wessels charges over for a try, after a great run from Hayden Cole. Jaline converts, and it’s 17 apiece. The boys are pulling out some great runs, notably Nigel Vaifale and Robert Duff. And Tyrone’s doing the Macarena on the sideline, warming up for a return to the field.

The play is going back and forth, with neither side dominating but, from a scrum win, Robert dashes over in the north-west corner. However Jaline can’t convert: 22-17. And in any case the joy is shortlived: only a minute later Wests go over for a try, and get the conversion: 22-24.

It’s hard to assess the mood in the Polota-Nau Pavilion. Typically in these situations there’s a sense of impending doom, as in the horror movie when, although the monster has been stabbed and shot fifteen times and then fallen off a cliff into the sea, you just know it will reappear at the last moment to spoil everything.  However an eerie sense of calm has descended. Maybe it’s the steadying presence of Merrylands RSL President Ron Hand who, together with his wife and a handful of others from the Club, are regulars at home games.

And the boys are knuckling down: more great runs from Nigel, Robert and Josh Tupuola, who goes nail-bitingly close to a try, but not quite there. But the pressure tells, and with 25 minutes gone in the second half Parra get a penalty, and although Jaline’s kick hits the upright, it’s through: 25-24.

Better still, three minutes later man-of-the-moment Andrew Cox, after a great run by Sam Hayward, gets the ball over the line. 32-24, with ten to go. But not for long: almost immediately afterward Wests score a converted try: 32-31. Can we hang on? Or is the monster, sodden and half-dismembered, clambering back up the cliff?

The boys have hung on for their second win of the season. Not pretty, but a win is a win, as they say. Immediately after full-time there’s an onfield presentation to Captain Andrew Cox recognising that, in captaining the First Grade side for 152 games (this one has in fact been his 153rd), he has broken the record of Club legend Alan Minett. And Alan is on hand to present the specially struck trophy (“the Cox Plate”) to commemorate the occasion.

On balance, not a bad day. While Seconds have gone down 19-29, Thirds and Fourths have prevailed, respectively 44-26 and 15-4. Firsts Colts have drawn 29-all, Seconds down 10-19, but Thirds up 26-24.

However it’ll be a tougher challenge next week against Southern Districts at Forshaw Park.

The Apprentice