A spirited half time comeback from the MacKillop Saints Open Boys rugby league side against the visiting 2018 Palmerston Cup champions, Palmerston Senior College, saw the Saints take victory in an extremely close 2019 encounter.
Club captain Jayden Hunter led his Saints team into the match which was played in wet and boggy conditions after a significant downfall of rain this week.
The Saints had all the momentum in the opening sequences and enjoyed a lot of field position down on the PSC end of the pitch thanks to strong runs from prop, Ethan Gregory, who was well supported by the rest of his forward pack. Unfortunately for the Saints, this wealth of territorial advantage would not lead to points despite fullback, Stepheno George, crossing the try line only to be penalised for double movement by the referee. PSC then took full advantage of a swing in the momentum of the game and managed to score twice before the halftime siren, entering the break with a 10-0 lead.
In the middle of the halftime huddle, coach Matthew Sharp encouraged his players by telling them that despite what the scoreline indicated, he felt the Saints were on top of the contest and that communication and sticking to the game plan of playing central while attacking the ruck would see the side eat into the deficit before too long.
The message seemed to have effect as the Saints hit back first and early into the second half with a try to inspirational captain, Jayden Hunter. Hunter more closely resembled a rhinoceros on stampede as he ran 30 meters brushing off multiple defenders on his way to scoring adjacent the left upright. The try was converted by 5/8, Phil Vo, to take the game to 10-6. Saints managed to put the scorers to work again soon after thanks to a crafty sneak out of dummy half by hooker, Harry Price, late in the tackle count with PSC defending their line. Vo gave the Saints the lead with another conversion.
From here the game took a dramatic turn with a runaway try to PSC resulting from tired middle of the park defence from MacKillop. PSC converted the try to extend their lead to four points.
MacKillop had to move fast with time running out in the half.
Strong scoots from dummy half by winger, Aidan Smith, and vice-captain, Jake Crawley, denting the line saw the Saints get back down into PSCs half. Stepheno George finished an impressive left edge play by running through the opposition defence before carrying the ball back in under the posts for Vo to have his easiest kick of the day, taking the team to a narrow 18-16 lead with 5 minutes left on the clock. George was involved in another classy play prior where he chased down a PSC back who made a break into the back field with a large head start and an open try line but George managed to tackle the player within inches of the try line. Geroge’s try proved the match winner but his commitment to never giving up on a play to make the unlikely tackle proved to be the match saver as PSC would not bother the scorers again.
When asked for comment on the game today, Coach Sharp offered the following -
‘I am really pleased for all our players today. We had a preparation interrupted by weather, injury, personal circumstances and squad members pulling out at the last minute which was disappointing but the character of the players who threw on the jersey today to go out there and win against a good opposition and tough odds, really shows what type of football club we have here at MacKillop. Winning silverware is always great but the biggest win for me was seeing some really great young men come together, work as a team, show belief in themselves and their mate next to them and prove to themselves that they had what it took to stand up succeed. Today was the toughest performance I’ve witnessed in my time coaching at MacKillop. It was a team performance where everybody contributed and one that I am most proud of. In fact, we played a lot of the match with only one player on the bench today’.
Sharp made special mention of halfback, Alister Lasker, who showed incredible courage to step up not one but two age groups in competition and compete with vigour, well above his weight. ‘I gave him a job to do out there’ Sharp said, ‘’deliver the ball out to our edges and try to avoid traffic in the defensive line. I’m proud to say he exceeded those basic instructions and even put some strong shots on in defence against players twice his size. Alister might be the youngest player to ever represent the Saints in the Opens division’.
Sharp also made a point of highlighting the defence of Ronan Kordjan, who forced the opposition into errors on more than one occasion and also Josh Bates who played tough today and is an early Most Improved candidate for this season.
Thanks must go to all involved in a great team effort today - from our groundsman, Shane Hutchinson, who prepared a top class pitch for us to use, to the water team led by the two Matts who kept the team hydrated, to super-sub, Chase Dawes, who we can always trust to be a reliable player off the bench and to Palmerston Council for sponsoring the Cup initiative.
Thanks must also go to Federal Member - Hon. Mr. Luke Gosling for making himself available to watch the match this afternoon and present the team with the cup.
Attention now turns to our U16s Eels Cup campaign for both boys and girls which will kick off early next term.