Finals Series Week 1
By Paul Treanor
Saturday T.G. Millner Oval GRADEKICK OFFOPPONENTSFourth
10.15 amEastern SuburbsThird
Saturday at Forshaw Rugby Park
Colts 1 Vs Randwick 3 pm
Last Saturday we awoke to the news University had lost 30 points from the Club Championship for a breach on the competition rules in Colts 3 giving Eastwood just 32 points to make up in the final round to win the Gregor George Cup. But to their credit, and the reason they have been such a dominant Club in the Shute Shield, University were too strong for Northern Suburbs across all competitions with the only blemish a draw in Third Grade. Congratulations to the Students on another successful season.
Eastwood gave it their best shot winning all games except Colts 3. In the end the final margin was 49 points. In terms of results that equates to an extra win in First Grade, or an extra win in Second Grade and an extra win in Colts 3, or an extra win by each of the Colts sides. It was that close. It is fitting University and Eastwood are the only Clubs to have teams in all Grades this Saturday.
There were a number of outstanding individual performances over the 18 rounds in terms of point scoring.
Ben Batger highest point scorer all Grades and First Grade.
Nick O’Connor most tries scored all Grades and Third Grade.
Max Page second highest point scorer Second Grade.
Alex Del Moro most tries scored in Second Grade.
Jack Tourish highest point scorer Third Grade.
This Week’s Games
With Third Grade the only side guaranteed a start next weekend our other sides will be wanting to win to make sure they are not relying on other results to make it to Week 2 of the Finals Series.
It seems like a repeat of last year in relation to the injuries to our back three with John Grant joining the growing loss of speedsters on the disabled list. Also out this week is David Piukala who has been impressing in Seconds since he came into the side in Round 5 for the injured Tom Ellem. These injuries have had the usual filter down effect through the grades for this week’s selections.
4th Grade Vs Eastern Suburbs
Finishing second Fourths are up against 5th place Eastern Suburbs and will be looking to kick proceedings off at Millner with the first win of the day. Eastern Suburbs know a loss means the end of their season while Eastwood will make it through regardless unless University gets beaten by Southern Districts. The best way to take uncertainty out of the equation is to win.
The sides met three weeks ago with Eastwood running out winners 33 – 13. It was a five tries to two result in what was one of Eastwood’s best performances of the season. The team is now settled into finals football with a minimum of changes to the side that beat Warringah last week. Cormac Burke comes into Number 8 for Matt Prestipino who is required in Thirds. David Sutton has flown to Fiji to have intensive treatment on his injured groin and is replaced at Half Back by Taylor Mathieson. Chris Hala moves back to the Centres allowing Daniel Matthews to come into Fly Half and Daniel Bystrom, who missed last week, returns on the Wing replacing Jack Philp. Neil Tyler will also welcome back his coaching staff who were unavailable last weekend.
Easts will be more desperate this week as they know a loss spells the end of their season. They have made wholesale changes with only five players retained for this vital clash from the side we played three weeks ago.
Eastwood have unfinished business in Fourths after going down to University in last year’s Grand Final and will have too much fire power across the pack for their opponents this Saturday.
3rd Grade Vs Warringah
Eastwood dominated Warringah last Saturday in their last hit out before the finals. In the end the score was 27 – 7 with Eastwood scoring three tries to one. Mark Frost was denied a double when the Referee ruled he was held up over the line. The attack and defence of the Eastwood side has been outstanding all season and was again of display last Saturday. They have the best attacking and defensive record of the competition scoring 800 points while only allowing 166 to be scored against them. Despite changes to personnel over the season the core strength of the side has been maintained and they are the side to beat in the finals series.
Warringah had no answers last Saturday and will need to come up with a new game plan if they are to cause an upset. They will certainly throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Eastwood as a loss puts an end to their season. Eastwood as minor premiers will move to the next round no matter the result but will not want to drop a game at this stage with the Grand Final just around the corner.
Team changes this week sees Joel Whitlock return to Prop having made a full recovery from that nasty head knock a few weeks back. Matt Prestipino comes into the pack to replace Rhys Allen and finally, leading point scorer Jack Tourish returns after missing last week taking over Full Back from Nick Batger.
Warringah have made four changes to last week’s side. Michael Richie and Sean Davies come into the pack, Ethan Borula is the new Fly Half and Max Jones comes into the side on the Wing.
Eastwood strong defence and speed to burn will again be on display and give Warringah headaches across the park.
2nd Grade Vs Warringah
Second Grade gave themselves every chance of knocking Manly off the top of the ladder with their impressive bonus point win over Warringah to finish on equal points with Manly after they lost to Randwick. Manly managed to salvage a bonus point out of that match and were crowned minor premiers as they won one more game than Eastwood.
For this week’s clash they have lost the impressive David Piukala due to an injury sustained in last week’s game that is still being assessed as to its extent and time on the disabled list. Hopefully he will be back to help with the sides finals campaign. His place has been taken by the Eastwood Junior and Swedish International Rhys Allen who has been putting in some strong performances in Thirds in recent weeks. The rest of the side remains unchanged.
For Warringah Martin Collins comes up from Fourths to replace Ben Adams in the Second Row and Jerry Lamula is the new Full Back.
Second Grade have started to play the football we know they are capable of and after their 33 – 10 win over Warringah last Saturday they are in the box seat to beat them again this week. Seconds have a number of players with First Grade experience supported by a couple of talented last year Colts and play a brand of football that will be hard to beat in this finals series.
1st Grade Vs Warringah
The Shute Shield in 2015 is a tight affair with any of the six teams in the finals capable of going all the way. Last Saturday Eastwood had an arm wrestle against a Warringah side desperate to hang onto fourth spot with the result in the balance to the final whistle. This week it will be do-or-die again knowing another loss to the Woods will be an end to their season. It was Eastwood’s loss to Southern Districts last year that saw them exist early after they lost to University. They will be not want to depart in week one of the finals again this year.
A season ending injury to John Grant early in the game and the loss of Jared Barry at half time did not help our cause last week. Fortunately Jared is back this week but John Grant will be missed as he joins our other starting Winger Ben Shorter on the sidelines. John’s place has been taken by the experienced Nick Batger who returns to the top Grade for the first time since his injury in last year’s Grand Final Qualifier. Nick returned to Second Grade in Round 6 against Penrith but suffered another injury in Round 9 against Manly before returning again off the bench in Thirds against Eastern Suburbs three weeks ago. His experience will be most welcome though a little short on match fitness. The rotation of Props continues with Jed Gillespie starting and Sam Needs moving to the bench.
Eastwood have won both their encounters this year against Warringah but will know they will need to be on their game in this intriguing finals clash. Eastwood are still not at their best and will be looking to improve on last week’s performance as they can’t give Warringah a sniff. The question is can Warringah lift to another level or are they playing at their best? They have the leading try scorer, ex Eastwood Josh Holmes, directing them from Half Back. Josh is dangerous when the Rats are awarded a penalty and will need to be carefully watched. They have made just the one change to their side. Junior Palau is out and is replaced by Ben Adams who moves up from Seconds.
A most entertaining game in the making which, if last week in any indication, will go down to the wire. A game that Eastwood should win if they can keep their troops on the field and maintain pressure and patience throughout the 80 minutes.
Colts 1 Vs Randwick
Eastwood won the race for 6th spot earning them a date with the Minor Premiers Randwick and the chance to move into the second week of the finals. Eastwood put a scare in the Randwick camp two weeks ago when they were behind by just three points with less than five minutes to go. A late converted try saw Randwick run out winners 29 – 19 but the question was put and a bigger effort is required this Saturday at Forshaw. Its sudden death with no next week’s left and so there is no need to leave anything in the tank. Randwick have been the form side in Colts 1 all year with just the one loss when University beat them 24 – 22 and are favoured to go back to back as Premiers. They will be aware of the dangers Eastwood bring to the game after that close encounter but in any two horse race both have a chance. It would be the upset of the year but what does Eastwood have to lose?