Carl Unger went along to Manly Oval to watch the clash between the Stars and the Rays. This is his report.
It’s only round 1 but the Sydney derby between the North Harbour Rays and the Sydney Stars felt like a must win, sudden death scenario with the amount of Super Rugby dominated sides to contend with down the track. This was a golden opportunity to grab points for both teams.
It’s back to back games for these 2 rivals with the Stars hosting the Rays in the final game last year and taking out the victory in typical NRC high scoring fashion 49-40 and of course lets not forget the famous Mitch Lewis own try.
Jumpers were off for a beautiful sunny day at Manly Oval. A perfect way to kick off the first Sydney derby of NRC 2015 and it seemed the sun was shining brightest on the Northern locals when young winger Alex Northam bolted through for a try in the 4th minute.
The Stars got bogged down with poor ball handling and execution which led to another Rays 5 pointer with Tom Hill releasing a quick ball to Michael Adams to plant one under the posts bringing the tally to 13-0.
The momentum would shift in the 21st minute when David Hickey touched down for a try, it was soft but it led to a hectic 8 minutes for the scoreboard attendant with tries to Tom Robertson, James Hanson and former Ray, Harry Jones.
The half time whistle couldn’t come soon enough for North Harbour with the men from Leichardt retaining a dominant 37-13 lead at half time.
It seemed to be a half of two halves but the Stars were able to achieve more with their possession, basic mistakes from the Rays not helping. The locals would need to take this game by the neck and be first to score after the break if they were to be a chance of winning.
The Rays would indeed be first in and went boom boom (that one’s for you Marlins fans) scoring twice quickly, starting with Richard Woolf displaying great touch, batting a grubber near the sideline with one hand to Tom Hill on the inside to score in the 43rd minute. Perhaps a little bitter sweet for the Marlins fans in the crowd who watched Hill play for Eastwood in the Shute Shield final last week (sorry Marlins fans).
With the gap reduced to only a converted try after Holmes the younger won a foot race to score under the posts, it was game on.
The Rays regained much needed confidence and it appeared that scores were about to be leveled when big no. 6 Jack Dempsey made a long run down centre field, but eventually ended up short after a pass to the outside didn’t quite come off. The Northsiders would continue to attack inside the Sydney 22 on the back of the territorial gain but were repelled by solid defense which had finally clicked into a consistent rhythm for the Stars.
It felt like the locals were just holding on and a fair period of possession kept the Stars out of the cookie jar but eventually the 2nd half drought for Sydney would be broken via Tom Coolican, running on the burst off a Harry Jones inside ball, exhibiting lightning pace to score down the left side.
Leading by 2 converted tries with 12 minutes remaining the Stars were looking at the possibility of their 2nd ever win but needed to hang on.
North Harbour would battle and toil to get themselves back in but couldn’t quite execute or maintain attacking cohesion in the face of strong pressure applied by the Stars defense, getting ground down until the full time whistle.
The NRC has been built as an attacking paradise and the score in this game accurately reflected that but crunching hits and solid defensive efforts by the Sydney Stars during extended periods in the 2nd half were pivotal for the result. The Rays had to work very hard to make any kind inroads and the pressure of the task seemed too much and lead to crucial errors.
The telling stat here is possession, with the Rays having 58% of the ball but unable to make much good use of it compared to the Stars. Perhaps it will take some time for the team to gel as a well-oiled unit, which isn’t surprising with players from 5 different clubs making up the squad, many of whom only joined training in the last week. The potential is there though, they did show some good spark at times in attack and defense.
Confidence is important. The Stars had to wait until the final round last year to register their first win, so they will enjoy the benefit of getting off to a winning start for a change, perhaps setting the tone for the season.
Overall an entertaining afternoon of NRC football.
The Game Changer
The David Hickey try opened the flood gates early on for the Stars, and gave them the confidence and momentum to carry on the the remainder of the game.
The G&GR MOTM
James Hanson, fresh from the disappointment of missing out on the RWC squad, showed just what a crucial signing he could be for the Sydney Stars this year, particularly now he seems to be available for every game.
Oz BaaBaa Watch
Tom Hill played strongly at centre for the Rays, whilst winger Harry Jones showed some class for the Stars. Sydney captain David Hickey was as industrious as he has been for Sydney Uni as well.
North Harbour Rays
Tries: A Northam (4m), M Adams (15m), T Hill (43m), J Holmes (53m)
Con: H Angus 3/4 (16m, 44m, 54m)
D Hickey (21m), J Gordon (25m), H Jones (28m), T Robertson (30m), J Hanson (39m), T Coolican (68m)
Con: A Roberts 5/6 (25m, 29m, 31m, 40m, 69m)