Jersey Flegg – Bulldogs 30 Defeated Eels 18
With literally a battalion of players missing from their team due to injuries and promotion, the young Eels were always going to have to produce something special to win this game. That said, the squad had been performing admirably without their “stars” and went into the match with an air of confidence.
The list of missing players was a veritable who’s who.
Dylan Brown, Haze Dunster, Ethan Parry, Stefano Utoikanmanu, Filia Utoikamanu, Oregon Kaufusi, Salesi Fainga’a, Steve Dresler, Dylan Clifford, Noel Aukafolau, William Kei and Joe Taipari were among those missing for this game. Throw in current first graders Jaeman Salmon and Reed Mahoney who won’t be eligible to return, and it’s an imposing group of unavailable talent – literally an entire team.
The first half was indicative of a team missing too many players.
The play was a combination of multiple sets of patience working to a game plan, followed up by sets pushing impossible passes. The Bulldogs’ defence did an outstanding job repelling the Eels attack in their quarter, and made the most of their possession and the Eels poor discipline to reach a 20 to nil half time lead.
The Eels began the second half strongly, and makeshift five-eighth Tui Afualo wrestled his way out of the grasp of Bulldogs defenders to crash over for Parra’s opening try. The 20 to 6 score line only lasted for another 6 minutes as Michael Tupou took a crash ball next to the posts, blasting defenders out of his way. At 20 to 12, time was not a factor as there was still 23 minutes left on the clock.
Momentum was now with the young Eels, and Todd Sapienza took full advantage running a blind side play inside the Bulldogs quarter for Afu to score out wide. Despite taking a massive shot in the play, Sapienza dusted himself off to kick the sideline conversion. Game on at 20 to 18 with around 15 minutes to go.
The game looked to be the Eels for the taking as a Dogs indiscretion led to a sin bin and territory for the Eels. A charge next to the posts led to Sam Hughes celebrating a try, but the referee ruled held up. (The word out of the Eels room was disappointment with the call).
From that point the flow of the game was all Canterbury’s. A penalty against the Eels for holding on in the tackle piggy-backed the Dogs downfield, where another penalty gifted them a penalty goal. The Eels chasers were then in front of the kicker from the kick-off and the Dogs iced the game with a converted try and a 28 to 18 score. Salt was then rubbed into the wounds when the Dogs brought the ball back down into the Eels half and were awarded the penalty from a scuffle.
Full time – Bulldogs 30, Eels 18
The standout player in this match was Sean Keppie. The big unit played huge minutes (I can’t recall him being replaced) and was relentless in his carries. Not far behind was Tyrone Faulkner. I hadn’t seen much of this young bloke before but he’s another big human who plays aggressively and possesses a good offload. Todd Sapienza would be deserving of a point in any match honours, and for a player that was brought in as a depth signing, he’s proved to be a find in 2018 and a key player in their title aspirations.
The team itself had players perform admirably out of position, such as Tui Afualo in the halves and Nick Okladnikov in the centres. Players from this year’s SG Ball team, such as Sam Hughes, David Hollis and JP Nohra are gaining invaluable experience through the absence of so many team regulars, auguring well for the future.
Edit – I was remiss to not mention another debutant from SG Ball – back rower, Charbel Tasipale.
His first carry led to a break from a superb offload, and he followed that up with a similar play in the second half. He looks significantly bigger than he did just a few months ago.
This was the last regular season match for the Flegg boys. Next week will see the 6th placed Eels take on the 7th placed Dogs in an elimination final at Penrith Park on Saturday.
ISP Bulldogs 22 Defeated Wenty 14
Following the Warriors victory over the Bears on Saturday, the result in this match meant little to a Magpies team unable to qualify for the finals. Nonetheless, young Eels such as Brown, Kaufusi, Utoikamanu, Dunster, Parry and Dresler were retained in ISP as they continue their path to senior football.
This is a young Wenty team, with Bevan French being the only player with significant NRL experience to guide them.
The game did not start well with what looked like a nasty dislocation to Dylan Brown. Although the treatment looked as if it was a dislocation, it has since emerged that young Brown had suffered a significant break to a finger. To be honest, I’m stunned that he then performed as he did. He literally played the entire match with this break.
Greg Leleisiuao was the first to score after 10 minutes, crossing out wide off a Brown pass. After the try, Brown again received more attention to his finger. The try was unconverted, but GL provided Wenty with an identical conversion attempt, this time scoring off a French pass. Brown took this attempt and nailed it from the sideline, giving a 10 nil score line with 13 minutes left in the half.
The Wenty defence in the face of a 7-2 penalty count was superb. However, the weight of possession eventually took its toll as the Dogs crossed for a converted try with three minutes left in the half. The teams hit the sheds with the score reading 10 – 6 to Wenty.
The match got into a tough grind in the early part of the second half, but Dunster superbly finished off a Wenty play to score out wide. The conversion was unsuccessful and the 14 to 6 score was flattering to the Dogs. Just like the Jersey Flegg game, the turning point came with the advantage seemingly with the home team. Following a foul and a scuffle with Steve Dresler, the Bulldogs lost a player to the bin, yet then gained all of the momentum on the back of Wenty errors.
A Dogs try next to the posts following a bad missed tackle narrowed the score to 14 – 12 with 13 minutes remaining. A costly lost possession around the Wenty quarter gifted Canterbury with even more territory and possession which they duly utilised with another converted try and the lead for the first time in the game with only seven minutes left on the clock.
Ray Stone pulled off a remarkable try saving “intercept” when knocking down a pass whilst chasing in defence, but his effort was to no avail as the Magpies soon conceded a try out wide after the Dogs pulled off a sequence of superb offloads to open up space in the corner.
The young Jersey Flegg players were among the best on field for Wenty. Utoikamanu and Kaufusi were imposing in the middle, and Parry was solid in the centres. Dunster is playing his best football in this grade, and his benefitting from sticking to a specialised wing role. I was disappointed that Dresler was only given a short (though fiery) late stint on the field.
Ray Stone again provided a typically involved, aggressive “Stoney” performance. Bevan French was highly involved but not as influential as last week. GL was a handful with every carry, but I’d like to see even more involvement from him. Am I expecting too much? I still feel like Dane Aukafolau might play his best football as a back rower – time will tell. The best of the Wenty contracted players was Rhys Davies.
The standout was unquestionably Dylan Brown. The dynamic half played the entire match with a badly broken finger. What was most impressive considering this injury was his defensive display. He delivered two of the best one-on-one hits of the game, one of these being a try saver on the line. This bloke is TOUGH! Unfortunately his injury could be bad in terms of his availability for the finals.
This match spelt the end of the Magpies season. As much as I enjoy attending Ringrose to cheer for Wenty, I will continue to push for Parra to have its own ISP team. More on this to come.