Above – Manly vs Randwick
Experienced Woods See Off Rats Challenge
Eastwood will host a home Intrust Super Shute Shield Semi-Final next weekend after seeing off a gallant Warringah, 23-10, at TG Millner Field this afternoon.
Buoyed by a vocal home crowd, the reigning Premiers were made to work hard for their victory by a Rats side that had pushed them to the wire seven days ago in the final round of the regular season.
Behind 10-3 at the break, the visitors rallied with the sort of breakaway try for Josh Holmes for which they have become noted in recent seasons. But a determined Ben Batger restored Eastwood’s lead four minutes later before knocking over a penalty on the hour that seemed to break the Rats’ resistance.
Centre Tom Hill slotted a final three-pointer after the bell, to send the Premiers into their sixth semi-final in the last seven years.
Things had started ominously for the visitors, home prop Jed Gillespie almost over but for a last ditch effort from Michael Adams. However, referee Ed Martin called play back for an earlier infringement and Ben Batger did the honours.
A swirling breeze arrived with the restart, making kicking judgment in both execution and receipt, a touch more unpredictable. But it didn’t perturb Warringah’s intent and, clearly unfazed by the occasion given their efforts last week, set about applying pressure to their hosts’ 22.
Successive phases stretched the Eastwood line in the 10th minute and drew a penalty for Eastwood not rolling away, Hamish Angus levelling matters. And as the first quarter progressed, there were definite causes for concern amongst the TG Millner faithful, the Rats competing well at the breakdown, producing plenty of big hits and limiting the Woodies to the odd line break.
But the turning point was the scrum. Finding themselves 10 metres out in the 22nd minute, the Woods wheeled the Rats on three occasions before the ball finally came out at the fourth time of asking. When it did, Ben Batger’s switch of play and neat hands from Jai Ayoub almost opened the door for Tom Hill, only for the towering centre to be held up over the line.
That opened the door for the Woods to go for the jugular from the next engagement and it worked, Rats’ tighthead Wayne Borsack sent to the bin. But things only got worse for the visitors, Ed Martin running under the posts to signal a penalty try after Borsack’s replacement was unable to turn the tide.
The remaining 10 minutes saw the Rats in a bit of shellshock as the realisation that their chances of achieving any kind of set-piece platform for the rest of the game were unlikely. A Hamish Angus penalty on the stroke of half-time would have sent them to the sheds in much finer fettle but the usually reliable flyhalf pulled his attempt wide leaving the Rats still a converted try behind.
Knowing they would be under the pump without possession, it was increasingly likely that it would take a moment of Warringah magic to get them back in the hunt, and so it was in the 46th minute.
Countering from their own half, a great carry by Tyson Davis and two passes inside – one suspiciously forward if you’re a neutral, most definitely forward if you are of a Woods persuasion – and Josh Holmes had too much pace for the last man. Angus’ accuracy returned and we were all-square.
If the Rats had held Eastwood out for the next 10 minutes, it would have been interesting to see how the potential momentum shift would have affected both sides. But the try stirred the Woodies back into action and only four minutes later, they were back with their noses in front.
Having been forced up one too many blind alleys thus far, flyhalf Jai Ayoub found a hole at a pivotal moment, stepped and put on the gas before releasing Nick Batger. The Rats scrambled well to wrap him up but when the ball was recycled by the arriving support, it was brother Ben who had the finishing instincts and leg drive to power him over, despite the attentions of several green and white shirts.
With another semi-final beckoning, Eastwood’s experience started to tell. Ayoub began to find grass in behind, Ben Batger called the right shots from the back while skipper Hugh Perrett was – as usual – the calmest man on the field.
A Batger penalty on the hour effectively sealed the deal. The Rats were battling hard but struggling to create another genuine opening or much in the way of possession or territory. The difference between seven years finals’ experience compared to Warringah’s recent ascension to the contenders ranks in the last two years, was showing.
With Batger having departed, Tom Hill took up kicking duties with aplomb, crossing the black dot after the bell to confirm Warringah’s exit from the competition and set-up a home semi-final next week against Southern Districts or Sydney University.
Eastwood 23 (Penalty try, Ben Batger tries; Ben Batger 2 cons, 2 pens, Tom Hill pen) Warringah 10 (Josh Holmes try; Hamish Angus con, pen)
Manly 33 (Alex Northam 2, Dennis Pili-Gaitau, Sireli Tagicakibau tries; Sam Lane 2 cons, 2 pens, field goal) defeated Randwick 21 (Jock Pennington 2, Ned Hannigan tries; David Horwitz 3 cons)
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