The Sydney Stars held off a willing Perth Spirit side in the sunshine at Leichhardt Oval, in a hard fought, see-sawing encounter.
It was a fast paced and rugged opening to the match, with both teams attacking and tackling hard. Perth forwards Richard Hardwick and Rory Walton caused the Stars defence plenty of trouble, offloading well and shedding tackles at will. For the Stars Tom Kingston had some strong runs. At times though it seemed the games was too fast for the players’ skill levels, as the opening half was marred by some scrappy play, loose passes and inaccurate ruck work.
Perth Spirit opened the scoring in the13th minute. Kyle Godwin made a nice break down the right hand touch line, and successive offloads saw flanker Alex Rovira score in the corner. The conversion by Ian Prior had the Spirit up 8-0. The Stars hit back in the 20th minute, after pinning the Spirit in their own 22 with some clever and accurate kicks. The Stars set up a strong maul, then unleashed the backs with Jim Stewart holding 2 defenders and throwing a lovely cut out ball to winger John Hale who crossed in the corner. Roberts missed the touchline conversion.
Things got a bit scrappier for the Stars, and they were starting to resemble the 2014 team. After 27 minutes Ian Prior we t very close to scoring, but the Spirit went wide on the next phase and schoolboy fly half Nick Jooste found fullback Albert Nikoro who went over for the Spirit’s second try. Prior again conveeted from the touchline and the Spirit were looking comfortable at 16-5 over the Stars
The Stars finally managed to retain some ball, and lock Matt Philip made a good line break to give the Stars some territory. In the ensuing attack Perth hooker Anaru Rangi was a little enthusiastic with his defence, forgetting about using arms which saw him spending 10 minutes in the bin. this allowed the stars to set up a solid rolling maul from a lineout 5 meters from the Spirit line, from which captain David Hickey was able to dive over for the Stars second try. The Roberts conversion made the score 16-13 hich is how it stayed until half time
A minute into the second half Jim Stewart limped off, and was replaced by crowd favourite and the NRC’s most experienced debutant, Tom Carter. His impact was immediate, and 2 minutes later he made a break down left touchline which almost resulted in a try to Harry Jones. The Spirit tried to clear but didn’t find touch, allowing Tom Kingston to counter attack. After some pick and go attack the ball came to Tom Carter who sold everyone a dummy and crossed the try line himself. Roberts converted putting the Stars ahead for the first time 21-16. It was to be short lived as minutes later some tackle shedding running found Ollie Ollie Hoskins free in space, where he delivered a lovely ball to Jooste who outpaced Roberts to score his own try on debut, which Prior converted to put the Spirit ahead 24-21.
Perth winger Onehunga Havii looked dangerous every time he has the ball, but the Stars started to make some ground, advancing into the Spirit 22, where Nikoro was yellow carded for hands in the ruck. From the next passage of play centre Andrew Robinson made a break and offloaded to Tom Kingston who rolled over the line. Roberts’ conversion put the Stars back in the lead 29-24.
The Spirit pushed hard to regain control of the match and after 59 minutes the Stars also had a man in the bin after replacement Mitchell Whiteley was yellow carded for having his hands in the ruck. The Stars were lucky not to lose another moments later, with another Spirit ruck ball coming mysteriously loose. The Spirit attacked over many phases, but some huge defence from the Stars forced them back, and finally earned a releiving penalty. Praise goes to locks Matt Philip and Andrew Leota, as well as Tom Carter, who was organising the backline well in defence.
Perth were not able to breach the Stars line from then on. In the 69th minute Philip made a nice break and found a flying Harry Jones outside him who almost crossed in the left hand conrner. The Stars set up their pods for a few phases, and this opened up the defence for halfback Jake Gordon to dart over. With the try converted the game was now beyond the Spirit at 37-24. The Stars pushed on looking for the bonus point try and in the final minute of the game Matt Philip tried to sell a dummy which nobody went for, but the big lock barged his way over anyhow. The try was converted by replacement back Jordan McGregor to make the full time score 45-24
photos courtesy of Peter Mitchell
The Game Changer
With the game in the balance after 60 minutes, the Perth side were hard on attack in the Stars 22 for many phases, but the Stars hard and dogged defence held out, eventually generating a releiving penalty. The Spirit never looked like scoring the winning try from that point on.
The G&GR MOTM
Jake Gordon showed great vision in guiding the Stars arount the feild, and some good positional kicking as well. his try in the 69th minute sealed the match.
Oz BaaBaa watch
Perth winger Onehunga Havii looked dangereous with every touch of the ball,and made some big hits in defense as well. For the Stars lock Matt Philip worked hard all day, and made some good breaks, reminiscent of Dean Mumm.
Crowd: approximately 400
Score & Scorers
Tries: Hale, Hickey, Carter, Kingston, Gordon, Philip
Conversions: Roberts (4), McGregor
Tries: Rovira, Nikoro, Jooste
Conversions: Prior (3)
Cards & citings
yellow cards: Rangi (34 min), Nikoro (54 min), Whiteley (59 min)
HIGHLIGHTS PROVIDED BY FOX SPORTS NRC EXTRA TIME