The GPS competition seems to get better and better every year and in 2016 it was a cracker.
It was hard to pick a winner pre-season because the heavyweights of recent years, Scots and Newington, did not look so formidable on paper. Trial matches did not provide many clues to the pundits either.
As for the players: there didn’t seem to be as many outright favourites for rep matches as in previous years; so no GPS team had a stable of thoroughbreds to give them a short price from the bookies.
The doubt was well-founded: some roughies got up over more-fancied teams, and some handled the heavy going better that others.
Scots ended up being the stayers and won the Championship, getting up in some contests by a nose or a short head, but winning.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is what happened in the ten events:
The trials were out of the way and it was time to walk the walk. On smoke-hazy day in Sydney, Riverview beat Joeys 17-15 away, in a wonderful comeback after being down 3-15 at the break. Kings beat Newington at Stanmore 40-33 and although the teams scored five tries each Kings dominated open play after half-time. Scots beat Shore 25-13 at Northbridge. Both teams looked rusty and neither would have been happy with their error count.
Kings were mindful of a loss to Scots in the trials. After willing rugby from both sides two pieces of brilliance from Dylan Pietsch helped Kings to win 34-13. In a ding-dong battle both Riverview and Newington had ascendancy and the lead at times, but View finished better and won 44-30. Shore played well upfront against Joeys but the Joe Boys’ backs dominated and they won 33-10. After two rounds only Riverview and Kings were unbeaten.
Scots were behind at half-time, but their defence repelled the damaging ball-runners of Newington and scored four tries to one after the break to win 32-20. Joeys were well in the game but bad discipline after Kings’ pressure cost them. They scored two tries each but Kings were worthy winners 24-18. Win-less Shore were 14-7 ahead at oranges but Riverview scored two tries in five minutes after the restart and won 45-21 to remain unbeaten, with Kings.
GPS got its first outright leader when Riverview chalked up four tries to one to beat Kings 24-13, and give them their first loss of the season. Scots beat Joeys for the tenth time in a row, 20-18, to give SJC a 1-3 record in 2016 including two home losses. Shore led 12-7 at the break but Newington’s big boys were too powerful at key moments in the second half and they won 26-19.
The worst conditions of the season meant that teams who handled the wind, rain and mud better would prevail. Joeys lost their fourth game out of five when the big Newington lads commanded tight play and won 28-17. Scots handed Riverview their first loss of the season with a commendable defensive effort to win 14-12 . Kings were not stellar but were 16-7 victors over Shore who did not manage the conditions well.
There were memorable games this weekend. Scots beat a luckless Shore 29-26 with a penalty goal after the scores were tied with a minute remaining. In a pulsating game at Riverview, Joeys prevailed after the score changed hands several times in the second half, and Joeys kicked a long range penalty with a minute left to win 32-29. After a dull first half at North Parramatta a Newington comeback was stopped by a resolute Kings.
Scots took the outright lead for the first time in 2016 when they beat Kings 17-10 in a tight match on a windy day at Bellevue Hill. Joeys had their first home win of the year when their backs bamboozled Shore helped by the pack playing their best game to date. Riverview slumped to their third loss in a row when Newington won away 24-20 by handling the conditions better, keeping it tight.
This was the round of the season because the three bottom teams beat the three top teams. The Northbridge crowd was ecstatic when Shore got their first win since Round 9, 2014. They beat Riverview 17-5 to hand them their fourth consecutive loss, after winning their first four. Joeys continued their good form beating recent co-leaders, Kings; and Newington won their fourth out of their last five to down top dogs, Scots. Wow—what a Saturday.
Scots won the GPS Championship outright when they beat Joeys comprehensively 32-17 at Bellevue Hill. This was because Kings, who were a chance to be Joint Premiers if they won their last two games, went down by one point thanks to a nerveless Riverview conversion from touch at the end of the game. Elsewhere big improvers, Newington, won their fifth game out of six when they spoiled Shore’s chance to get a rare consecutive win.
The feature of this round was a miracle comeback for Joeys over Newington 48-47 when defence was wanting but excitement strong. It ended when all the ducks lined up for Joeys and they kicked a penalty goal from their side of halfway. Riverview ended their horror run of losses winning convincingly 36-15 against Scots, and Kings won 45-10 against Shore who never gave up and scored their two tries in the last minutes.
Scots – 1st
One 1st XV team, unheralded in the pre-season, turned out instead to be a champion ‘team’.
Scots couldn’t turn to noted ‘match-winners’; instead, time and again this season they turned to rely on each other. Irrespective of scorelines, tighter this year than in Scots’ previous three Premierships, the mantra was “Keep working”!
And they did; and with it, came rewards.
Well prepared with fine coaching, and fitness to brimming to the challenges they faced, they found ‘ways’ when they needed to—to win the tight ones, and especially to bounce back from the inevitable season setbacks.
Scots were the only side this year not to suffer back-to-back losses, but most of all, it is clear this champion team, played their all for each other, every round. These Firsts were a cohesive, close-knit band of brothers. The school motto: “Brave hearts, Bold minds”, played out large for all to see.
The forwards set the platform and their backs took most of the accolades, but they all shared in the spoils of the work and commitment they put in. Tenacity and commitment at the contact, and hard running at the gaps, were hallmarks of this Premiership side, but most of all, it was doing the basics well and consistently so, that resulted in Scots being deserved 2016 Premiers.
Best players: 1.Charlie Jeavons-Fellows, 2.Hugh Green, 3.Nic Shannon.
Kings – Equal 2nd
The Men from North Parramatta – By A.B (Azzuri Banjo) Patterson.
“There was grumbling at North Parra, for the word had passed around
That the School Challenge Trophy had got away,
It had joined the Latte Sippers – whose smugness did abound,
And their gloating, botoxed bonces were in photos, on display.
All tried and noted King’s players from the stations near and far
Had mustered at White Oval overnight,
For the Kingsmen love hard rucking where the wild merinos graze,
And the Kings’ Piggies await next season’s battles with delight.”
And with the first stanza of Banjo’s famous poem still ringing in our ears we bid farewell to season 2016. A season of high’s low’s and in-between’s and described by some King’s supporters as the “coulda, woulda and shoulda” season.
Looking back, the Kingsmen more than had the measure of every opponent but three consecutive close losses in the second round to Scots, Joeys and View by a total of only 12 points was all it took for their Premiership chances to go the way of the Dodo.
Despite the result it was a memorable and important season for the Sky Blue and White and has breathed much needed life back into rugby program and excited the imagination of the youngsters coming through the ranks.
Best players: 1, Dylan Pietsch, 2. Luke Osborne, 3. Nick Brown.
Riverview – Equal 2nd
by “William Wallace”
Riverview sprinted out of the blocks this year, with command performances against all comers, winning their first four games and rightfully being favoured as one of the Premiership contenders, before a decisive and narrow Round 5 loss against eventual Premiers, Scots.
That loss marked the turning point in Riverview’s season, as they then suffered four losses on the trot, losing all momentum in the Premiership race. Three were squeakers and the other a surprising loss to to the gallant Shore team.
It speaks volumes for the Riverview playing group this year that they closed out their season with two handsome wins. One was a drama-filled away victory against Kings, who finished equal second on the Premiership table, and the other was beating the Premiers, Scots, convincingly at home. Except for one game they provided a significant challenge for all who faced them.
Best players: 1. Charlie Rorke, 2. Michael Fenn, 3. Oliver Smeallie.
Joeys – Equal 4th
by Lee Grant
Joeys had a woeful start to the season and after Round 5 they were contenders for the wooden spoon having lost four out of five, including all three at home.
In this period it was clear that they had inherited the weaknesses of recent years.
Their forwards showed their traditional blue-heeler attributes, but they did not impose themselves physically, nor stop others from doing so. Backrowers had to attend at too many rucks to help, and this fatal attraction allowed opponents to prosper by swinging the ball wide.
They were always available to backup their ball runners or chase attackers out wide, but mobility could do only so much
Moreover their lineouts were poor and the scrums had too many bad days.
Their backs were potent and some of the attacking movements they conjured up harked back to the days of Beale and Betham. Yet sometimes they had episodes of poor handling that were unaccountable.
Joeys got back on the bike beating Riverview away in a remarkable game, when both teams played well, to tie the match before winger Day kicked a long penalty for Joeys to win. Day also rescued them with 53-metre goal to beat Newington in their final game, to get a 5-5 record.
Best Players: 1. Matthew McTaggart, 2. Yirribi Jaffer-Williams, 3. Nick Wilkinson
Newington – Equal 4th
by Lee Grant
Newington had an odd year: losing their first three to the early leaders Kings, Riverview and Scots, then winning five out of six before going down to what will become a famous comeback game to Joeys, in the last match of the season.
For a while the school has had a cadre of big, hard forwards to underwrite success, but as in 2015 they often tired as the matches went on. Although their physical attributes, even in the backs through winger Taukamo, affected their opponents, there was sometimes a tipping point if they couldn’t put them away early enough.
During their rise starting in in Round 4, there was a period of heavy weather and ground conditions, in which Newington prospered. Had they performed as well when the grounds were harder in the opening matches, they would have contended for Championship honours earlier.
They were well-coached in the way they got the best out of their strengths and few teams beat them at the scrums or the rucks, or in taking the ball up in traffic—or stopping the same. Their attacking signature was to draw defenders into tight work then send the ball wide to their backs.
They had a significant loss when their best back, Simonsson, left the school, but their backline was impressive regardless; perhaps they should have got more ball. Who knows?
Best players: 1. Opeti Helu, 2, Nathan Lawson, 3. Bayley Kuenzle.
Shore – 6th
by “George Grant III”
The Shore 2016 season began with a lot of optimism from the Northbridge faithful. Despite failing to notch a win in a GPS game in 2015 they had a number of returning players with 1st XV experience and should be more competitive in 2016.
The pre-season trials were also very encouraging with wins over Trinity, Stannies, Cranbrook and Barker. The Barker game in particular showed how well the team could play, putting on 50 points. Rixon’s try 15 seconds into the game was a highlight.
Into the GPS season the Shore boys found themselves in the mix for periods of most of their matches, but unable to maintain their form for the full 70 minutes. Unfortunately for Shore, injuries meant they didn’t actually field their top side in a single GPS match, and only seven players managed to start in all ten games. Rixon, in particular, was a big loss.
There were games where Shore showed what they could do and a heartbreaking three-point loss to eventual winners Scots in the second round epitomised their season. The obvious highlight was the victory over Riverview where the team put it together and revealed their potential, winning 17-5.
Shore’s Australian Schoolboy Rory Suttor won “Players Player” award, Coaches Best and Fairest – Edward Gregory. Congratulations to all the Shore boys – we are proud of you all.
Best Players – 1. Rory Suttor 2. Edward Gregory 3. Will Haskins.
The season wrap
This was one of the most interesting competitions in recent years as the ladder became more of a spiral staircase – going one way and then the other. An oddball feature was the points differential of the teams—the winner had a differential of just +14 points for the season, and five of the six teams had a positive points margin.
After five rounds there was a clear break in in the standings because Scots, Riverview and Kings had lost only one game each (to one of the other two). Newington had won twice, Joeys only once, and Shore not at all.
Scots had a magnificent sequence of winning matches by small margins. In hindsight, their defensive resolve in this period was how they managed to win the Championship with a round to go.
Kings fizzled out of premiership contention after promising much at the start, and if Scots won some close ones, Shore lost them, and got some hidings into the bargain—but they won their first game in two years. Riverview had a disastrous run of four losses to drop out of contention.
Newington rose belatedly and supporters must have rued their slow start to the season. Even Joeys got a run of three wins and became a theoretical chance to be joint premiers, but they faded.
None of these comments are meant to detract from the efforts of the players. As usual some teams didn’t “have the cattle” but their efforts should be praised as much as those of the leading teams.
Congratulations to Scots for winning the GPS competition, outright or jointly, for four years in a row. This was all the more meritorious because they lacked the star quality they had in those other winning years.
Roll on 2017 !!
Read the 2016 Specials Awards report here