The Sydney Stars have recorded back to back wins for the first time in their history, defeating a spirited Queensland Country side at Leichhardt Oval on Thursday Night.
Queensland Country started strongly, controlling possession early and looking threatening, but it was the Stars who were first on the score sheet. A poor kick from Country gave Harry Jones some time and space and he was able to grubber through the last line of defence to regather and score in the 8th minute. Country hit straight back, though, when Duncan Paia’aua got outside his defender and slipped a beautiful ball out of the back of the hand to a flying Izaia Perese who showed some twinkle of his own to dance down the left hand touchline and score Country’s first try of the night. Sam Greene’s sideline conversion levelled the score at 8 all after 11 minutes.
The Stars defensive line was extremely aggressive, and the defensive pressure started to generate some turnovers. Stars halfback Jake Gordon nearly scored their second try from a sweeping backline play off a solid scrum, only foiled by some scrambling Country defence, but they couldn’t hold out as the Stars went touchline to touchline, with James Hanson showing good hands and vision to put Henry Clunies Ross over in the corner, and the Stars up 13-8 in the 13th minute. However 3 minutes later Henry Clunies Ross fell awkwardly in a tackle and suffered what appears to be a broken ankle. This was the second time the stretcher had been called for in the game, after JJ Taulagi suffered a knee ligament strain in the 7th minute. The loss of these 2 exciting young players is a blow for both teams, as well as the competition, as they had shown some good early form, but now appear destined for lengthy rehabilitations. We wish them all the best with their recovery.
The Stars defence was still pressuring Country leading to a number of handling errors but as with their first round game, Country’s set piece was showing some serious dominance earning a tight head scrum. At the 24 minute mark after some good lead up play Chris Feauai-Sautia broke the line, unselfishly offloading to captain James Tuttle who scored under the posts. The conversion put Country ahead for the first time in the game. It was short lived though, as some lazy ruck penalties gave the Stars a chance to gain easy territory. Although the Stars could not convert a rolling maul into points, Tight Head Prop Tom Robertson saw space between two backs and dived over. The conversion put them ahead 21-13 in the 30th minute. The Stars pulled further ahead in the shadow of half time with another attempted rolling maul. Referee Graham Cooper judged it to have been brought down illegally and awarded the Stars a penalty, which halfback Jake Gordon took quickly (somewhere near the mark) and darted over, giving the Stars a 29-16 Half Time Lead
The second half started with continued Country set piece dominance, which was undone by poor handling and inaccurate ruck work. Consecutive penalties gave the Stars a lineout 5m from the Country try line, and finally they were able to execute a solid rolling maul, with captain Dave Hickey charging through a splintering Country defence. Country looked rattled at this stage, but they regrouped well and showed some good old fashioned Queensland heart, fighting their way back into contention. Sam Greene, who was playing extremely flat at fly half, sold everyone around him a glorious dummy to dart over for a converted try almost untouched between 3 Stars defenders in the 49th minute. The Country scrum continues to boss the Stars, earning themselves a second tight head soon after, and giving Sam Greene the chance to once again attack the line and cause the Stars some problems. In the 58th minute Sef Fa’agase swooped on a dropped ball, offloaded to Jack Cornelson who showed great skill to hold the last defender and put Perese over for his second try of the game.
All of a sudden the score was 37-32 to the Stars, and the Country boys had their tails up with 20 minutes left to play. It all came undone shortly after with some poor handling by the Country backline saw the ball bobble into the hands of Tom Robertson, who raced (as fast as props can race) over the line from 20 meters out to become the competition’s leading try scorer. Minutes later the Stars were on the score sheet again, with lock Matt Philip and flanker Dave Dennis making meters up the right hand side, before Philip finished off the run he started to cross under the posts. With the score at 50-32 it became a mountain too steep for Queensland Country to climb, and although they scored again in the 70th minute though Duncan Paia’aua to draw within 10 points, the Stars never really looked as though they would let the game slip, closing out the match to finish at 50-40.
The Game Changer
While the game ebbed and flowed and Country never gave up, but it was Tom Robertson’s try in the 60th minute that sealed the win for the Stars, putting the game out of reach.
The G&GR MOTM
Tom Kingston worked hard all night at fullback for the Stars, showing great positioning, good vision, and making big meters in attack.
Oz BaaBaa watch
Queensland Country Winger Izaia Perese had a great game, defending well, and busting tackles at will. He was rewarded with 2 tries, and my pick for the Oz BaaBaa squad.
Crowd: undeclared, but approximately 300-400
Score & Scorers
Tries: Jones, Clunies Ross, Robertson (2), Gordon, Hickey, Philip
Conversions: Roberts (5)
Tries: Perese (2), Tuttle, Greene, Paia’aua
Conversions: Greene (5)
Cards & citings