Monday, 22 September 2014

Knights Defeat Cutters To Advance To Grand Final

Tyler Randell in action for Newcastle (Photo: Rob Sheeley)

The Newcastle Knights booked their place in the 2014 VB New South Wales Cup Grand Final with a dominant 34-10 win over the Illawarra Cutters at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.

An early hat-trick of tries to Josh Mantellato featured in a professional display from the Novocastrians who controlled the encounter from the outset. 

Mantellato took just 15 minutes to score all three of his tries in the north eastern corner, two of which were converted by Michael Dobson and had the Knights leading 16-0.

Mantellato’s third try was a real gem, soaring above the pack to latch onto a Dobson cross field kick and plant the ball down.

The Cutters struggled with the early ruck speed of the Knights and, along with ill discipline, it had them well and truly on the back foot.

The Illawarra side did manage to hit back with a try to Geoff Daniela in the 20th minute to put the scores at 16-4 but the resurgence was to be short-lived when the Cutters spilled the ball from the ensuing kick-off.

That allowed the Knights to go back on the attack with Pat Vaivai muscling his way over for a try. Mantellato added the extras and Newcastle led 22-4 which is how it remained until half time. 

Any hope that The Cutters harboured of a miraculous comeback were quickly put to bed when the Knights opened the scoring in the second half via a Chad Redmond dummy half effort. Mantellato’s conversion made it 28-4.

A 62nd minute try to Chanel Mata’utia, converted by Mantellato, extended the Knights ascendency to 34-4 and put the result beyond doubt.

The Cutters hit back three minutes late through Tyron Cranston with Sam Duggan converting to make it 34-10. 

Despite multiple opportunities in the final 18 minutes, the Illawarra team could offer no more in terms of a come back. Poor execution coupled with tireless Newcastle defensive efforts continued the trend that had been evident for most of the match and the scores would remain that way. 

The win sees the Knights go one better than they did in 2013 when they were eliminated in the corresponding match. They now earn the opportunity to become the 2014 premiers when they clash with the Penrith Panthers next Sunday at Allianz Stadium in the grand final.

Newcastle Knights 34 (J Mantellato 3, P Vaivai, C Redman, C Mata’utia tries. J Mantellato 3, M Dobson 2 goals) def. Illawarra Cutters 10 (G Daniela, T Cranston tries. S Duggan goal)

Follow Rob Sheeley on Twitter - @robshots

Penrith Into Grand Final With Win Over Wenty

Reagan Campbell-Gillard celebrates a try (Photo: Rob Sheeley)
A dominant second half display ensured that the Penrith Panthers were the first team to qualify for the 2014 VB New South Wales Cup Grand Final when they defeated the Wentworthville Magpies 31-12 at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.

The Panthers were short priced favourites to advance to the big one with their side hosting plenty of recent first grade experience, but things did not start as smoothly as anticipated for the mountain men after their opening kick-off sailed into touch on the full.

Despite the early faux pas, it was not long before the Panthers were on the board. A fifth minute Kevin Kingston line-break saw him promote the ball to Ryan Simpkins who crashed over under the posts. Wes Naiqama added the extras for a 6-0 lead.

Wentworthville wasted no time in replying and hit back with four pointers to Jake Butler-Fleming and Danny Howard. Both were converted by Luke Kelly and the Magpies led 12-6. 

The score remained that way until just before the stroke of half time when a scrum packed deep in the Panthers half with the timepiece showing just 12 seconds remaining. 

A break by Isaah Yeo saw him move the ball to Kevin Naiqama who raced away to score with the siren sounding in the background. It was just what the doctor ordered for the Panthers and an absolute heartbreaker for Wenty who had worked hard to get their lead. Tom Humble converted and the teams went to the sheds locked at 12-12.

In a stark contrast to the first stanza, the second half was to be one-way traffic. It took just three minutes for Reagan Campbell-Gillard to cross the line on the back of a pass from Luke Capewell which, along with the Humble conversion, put the Panthers ahead 18-12.

Four minutes later, fullback Kieran Moss was in on the action, crossing next to the posts. Naiqama converted to make it 24-12 and the game was seemingly slipping away from the Magpies.

The Panthers last try came in the 57th minute and was perhaps their piece de resistance. An offload from Waqa Blake to Wes Naiqama saw him turn the ball back inside to Kevin Kingston who eventually sent Luke Capewell en route to a four-pointer under the posts. The Naiqama conversion made the scores 30-12.

Tom Humble iced the cake for the Panthers with a 30-metre field goal in the 70th minute to ensure that they would be taking their place at Allianz Stadium next Sunday afternoon.

Penrith Panthers 31 (R Simpkins, R Campbell-Gillard, K Moss, L Capewell, K Naiqama tries. W Naiqama 3 goals, T Humble 2 goals and a field goal.) def. Wentworthville Magpies 12 (D Howard, J Butler-Fleming tries. L Kelly 2 goals)

Follow Rob Sheeley on Twitter - @robshots

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Stanton's Stellar Season

Kate Stanton flies to take a mark (Photo: Rob Sheeley)
When the Wollongong Saints women’s AFL team run on for their Grand Final against the Southern Power in Blacktown this Sunday, they can take solace in the fact that they have the best goal kicker in the competition.

Kate Stanton has kicked an astounding 63 goals from just 14 appearances in 2014, some 25 more than her nearest rival. Add to that the fact that she is just 15-years-old and playing her first year of senior football and the achievement is simply remarkable.

Stanton, who has played since 2006, could well have been destined to be an AFL player with the game running strongly in her pedigree.

“My Mum is from Melbourne and my father played football when he was younger so I grew up in a footy family. I guess it was natural for me to have an interest in the game,” Stanton said.

“My parents are the reason I started playing. Mum is the reason I support Hawthorn and my dad is always there to support me and give me advice during my games.

“I also loved the physical side of the game, as opposed to soccer and netball.”

For most 15-year-olds, the mere thought of playing against much bigger women who are often twice their age would be enough to deter them from even trying.

While she admits that the task may have appeared overwhelming initially, it is not something that concerns her now.

“I guess I was really hesitant at first but the girls in my team are so lovely so I don't mind at all. As a forward I guess it isn't as physical so I avoid the brutal side of it all, thankfully.”

For anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the unassuming, fleet-footed full forward in action, you can not help but imagine the hours of practice that must go into the sharp shooter’s preparation. Stanton says it is quite the opposite.

“To be honest the only time I kick the footy is on game day,” she laughed.

Stanton also plays basketball and soccer and, despite the fact that the footballing world could well be at the youngster’s mercy, it is refreshing to hear that Stanton plays AFL for the purest of reasons.

“I did play for NSW a while ago but I'm not really interested in playing representative football. All I want to do is have fun when I play sport with people I enjoy playing with.”

It is those very reasons that have endeared the Wollongong Saints to her.

“The people are the best thing about our team by far. They are all so friendly, funny and have always got your back.”

The Saints take on the Power this Sunday at Blacktown International Sportspark. First bounce is at 10 am.

Follow Rob Sheeley on Twitter - @robshots

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wollongong Saints Advance To Grand Final

Nicola Kennedy and Natalie Camilleri contest the ball (Photo: Rob Sheeley)
The Wollongong Saints booked a date with destiny by grinding out a tough 28-point win over the Penrith Ramettes in the Sydney Women’s AFL division two preliminary final on a soggy Henson Park last Saturday afternoon.

The victory sets up a mouth-watering grand final clash with the undefeated Southern Power in a rematch of their epic qualifying semifinal battle.

Precocious full forward Kate Stanton was at the forefront for the Saints, bagging four majors in a polished display that showed why she is the competition’s leading scorer. She was ably supported by Shannyn Everingham-Geary who also racked up a hat-trick of six pointers.

The physical encounter featured a trademark slow start from Wollongong who went to the first break trailing by two points.

In stark contrast, the Saints clicked into overdrive in the second term in a bedazzling quarter that laid the platform for their win.

The girls in sky blue racked up 28 unanswered points on the back of some crisp ball movement and deft finishing to go to the long break with a 26-point ascendency.

Penrith were not about to hoist the white flag and made up valuable ground in a dour third term, outscoring Wollongong by 15 points to two and ensuring that Wollongong coach Shane Grenfell still had to keep the heart pills handy.

However it was to be the last points that the Rammettes would score as the Saints sealed the win by keeping their opponents scoreless for the second full quarter of the match and adding 15 points of their own.

An often rugged final two stanzas saw plenty of play in the middle third of Henson Park with youngsters Kimberly Chan and Nicola Kennedy getting through a mountain of work.

Affable Wollongong defender Casey Moane left her mark on the game, going to extraordinary lengths to thwart any hopes of a successful Penrith shot on goal.

The perennial toil of ubiquitous rucking duo Laura Russell and Ellen Crewdson was also a key factor in the Sainters out-muscling Penrith in a tough second half arm wrestle.

Next weekend’s Grand Final will take place at 10am on Sunday at Blacktown International Sportspark.

Wollongong Saints 8-9:57 (Kate Stanton 4, Shannyn Everingham-Geary 3, Kimberly Chan goals) def. Penrith Ramettes 4-5:29 (Nikki Perrett, Melissa Brydon, Jasmin Payne, Jessie Burnham goals)

Follow Rob Sheeley on Twitter - @robshots

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Two Blues Upset Mounties in Ron Massey Cup

Kem Seru charges through the Mounties defence (Photo: Rob Sheeley)

The Cabramatta Two Blues kept their 2014 Ron Massey Cup playoffs hopes alive with an upset 24-16 win over Mounties at Mount Pritchard Sports Complex last Saturday.

The Two Blues made the most of their opportunities with some enterprising play to lead throughout and secure the much needed victory.

The game started horrendously for Mounties with handling errors and coach-killer penalties late in the tackle count handing Cabramatta a myriad of early possession.

It took just eight minutes for the Two Blues to open their account when their giant front-rower Kem Seru forced his way over on the last tackle to put them ahead 4-0.

By the 20th minute they were in again after some bedazzling passing in the lead up saw Henry Iuta score in the corner and put Cabramatta up 8-0.

The frustration continued for Mounties and they had barely completed a set by the 27th minute which is when Cabramatta racked up their third try. This time it was a Mounties handling error from a kick into their in-goal which allowed fullback Luke Lavender to pounce on the loose ball for the easiest of four-pointers. Hala Katoa added the extras and the Two Blues led 14-0.

When Mounties did manage to hang onto the ball they looked dangerous and a brilliant individual effort from fullback Theo Leato four minutes from half time put them on the board. Brett Lahey converted and the teams headed to the sheds at 14-6, a score that probably flattered Mounties but left them well and truly within striking distance.

The second half began like the first with another Mounties handling error that must have left coach Chris Hutchison wanting to tear out his hair. Cabramatta capitalised and scored soon after via centre Chris Taripo to extend their lead to 20-6.

Mounties were not done with just yet and when Cabramatta made the fatal error of failing to find touch from a penalty, they swooped on the opportunity. Gus Aiga was the recipient of a beautiful long ball that saw Mounties register their second try with 20 minutes left on the clock. Lahey landed a quality conversion from out wide and abbreviated the margin to just eight points at 20-12.

With ten minutes remaining Two Blues centre Hala Katoa was rewarded for some blockbusting running throughout the match when he crashed over to all but put the result beyond doubt at 24-12.

Mounties managed a late try through Gus Aiga who racked up his second of the afternoon but it was a case of too little, too late and Cabramatta prevailed to win 24-16.

The win leaves Cabramatta in sixth place on the ladder and still with a hope of playing semi-finals football. Mounties slip to third place after the loss and their hopes of a minor premiership appear dashed.

Cabramatta Two Blues 24 (Seru, Iuta, Taripo, Lavender, Katoa tries. Katoa 2 goals) def. Mounties 16 (Aiga 2, Leato tries. Lahey 2 goals).
Follow Rob Sheeley on Twitter - @robshots

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Time To Get Rid Of The Quick Tap

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher,Stronger). The Olympic motto, but also a motto that could easily be applied to the modern-day NRL competition.

It seems that ever since the only tryless grand final back in 1986, rugby league has strived to ensure that it never happens again. A raft of rule changes and counter rule changes to make the game open and allow it to flow (but not too much) have been a continual work in progress.

Naturally, the modus operandi of players and coaches throughout has been (and always will be) to keep the game at a pace comfortable for themselves, while the rule-makers will try to keep it exciting.

When Benji Marshall bucked the trend and took a quick tap from a penalty in March of 2013, it provided a lightbulb moment to bring that into the game permanently. In 2014, there are more opportunities for it to happen than ever, but is it working?

Last night in front of 30,394 fans at ANZ Stadium, one of those rule changes back fired like a 1976 TX Gemini. It managed to see the spotlight taken off any player or referee error for a change. Instead the match was supposedly decided by the actions of a ball boy.

After a brilliant 40/20 from Chris Sandow that appeared to have put his team back in the match, an attempted quick tap (and possible try) was called back because the ball boy had passed the ball in and not placed it on the ground.

Parramatta still had their chance to win from the ensuing set of six against a set defensive line and failed, but by that time the controversy had stolen the spotlight yet again.

Is it a flawed situation? There is seemingly nothing to stop an opposition ball boy doing the opposite and taking extra time to get the ball back into play as well, even if he does place it on the ground.

The rugby league illuminati, offered up alternatives such as having a ball there just for 40/20 kicks, but is that the only issue?

Ballboygate aside, the quick tap rule in 2014, from both penalties and 40/20’s has made about as much sense as someone urinating in their own mouth. This week one situation will be allowed, the next week it is called back.

Maybe the NRL needs to admit the quick tap rule has been about as successful as the Illawarra Steelers signing of Steve Rogers in 1986. Maybe there is enough advantage from getting possession from a scrum after a 40/20 or a taking a set tap after a penalty. If nothing else, there is a lot less room for confusion.

It could well be time to look at other measures to speed the game up or make it more entertaining. Two that spring to mind could be a reduction in the number of interchanges or a concerted effort to speed up the rucks.

If we genuinely want the game to be a better product, there is certainly no shame in admitting something has not worked and looking for other options.

Follow Rob Sheeley on Twitter - @robshots

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Birrell Ends Amazing Week At Australian Open

For Kimberly Birrell, her week probably ended one day earlier than she would have liked it to. Today she went down in the Australian Open girls’ singles semifinal 6-0 6-4 to Croatian Jana Fett. But today was just the culmination of a superb week for Birrell, who at just 15 has achieved great things.

“It has been a great week, it’s been amazing, I still don’t want it to end. I’ve learnt so much about myself.” Birrell said after the match.

“I’ve had some real positives come out of this week so I have to concentrate on those and not hang on to the disappointment too long.
Kimberly Birrell (Photo: Rob Sheeley)

“I’ve just got to get back on the practice court and keep going, it’s only the beginning.”

The initiation into any Grand Slam semifinal is tough and today was no different for Birrell when she met a red-hot Fett who oozed power from the very first game. However she says that, if and when this opportunity arises again, she now has a wealth of knowledge she can call on.

“I was a little bit more nervous heading into this one, it was a semifinal, I’ve never been in this situation before, I think it’s going to help a lot next year.

“I wish I could go out and play that match again; I’d like to have had a better start.

“If I’m ever in this situation again it’s an experience I’ll be able to call on.”

For a fleeting moment during the second set, it looked as though Birrell was about to stage one of the comebacks she has made a trademark of hers this week.

“I just wanted to finish the week the way I started it, I wanted to fight for every point.

“I think I tried my hardest but she was just better on the day.”

One of the biggest positives for Birrell is how much improvement she knows that she is capable of. It could be scary to ponder just how good she will be this time next year and beyond.

“I think I have so many things that I can still improve on.

“The strength and physical side of my game is something I’ll always be able to improve on, I’ve been working very hard in the past six months and definitely want to keep improving on that.

“I’ve had an ab (abdominal) injury in the last few weeks and I’ve just got over that and I haven’t been able to practice my serve as much, so hopefully I can keep working on that.”

While Birrell’s run of success at Melbourne Park this week is largely due to her stellar form, she says the support of those closest to her as well as the parochial Aussie crowds was a massive fillip for her confidence.

“Being here at home, having the home crowd, the support I have had has been crazy, incredible, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

“Having my family here and my amazing coach and team, I really owe everything to them.”

Unfortunately for the Gold Coast 15-year-old, she will be back to reality with a thud in the coming weeks as she returns to the grind of “normal” life.

“I’m going to head home; I’m starting year 11 so back to school,” she said with a wry smile that may well of veiled some lament.

One thing is for certain, if things go to plan for Kimberly Birrell, next year, things may well end a day later and with a trophy.