Boat club members king for the day

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12.03.2008 – Graham Croker

At the end, the margin was 0.21sec, but that was enough for NSW to win the King’s Cup for the men’s eight at the 2008 National Regatta, held at the International Regatta Centre at Penrith last weekend.

The gripping photo-finish saw the NSW eight hold off a fast-finishing Victoria, with Western Australia 3.14sec back in third place.

And many of the bragging rights that go with winning one of Australian rowing’s premier trophies can be heard at the Sydney University Boat Club which provided half of the crew, in, Francis Hegerty, Matt Ryan, Fergus Pragnell and Terrence Alfred, along with coxswain Marty Rabjohns.

With the regatta being held in perfect conditions, it was only fitting that the final race on the program – the King’s Cup for interstate eights – provided one of the most spectacular finishes in recent times.

NSW had been working towards the prize since going down to Victoria at Nagambie in 2007.

The crew was boated with Athen’s bronze medallist Steve Stewart changing sides to stroke on bowside, and newcomer Alfred in the seven seat. Backing up in six was Stewart’s fellow UTS stalwart James Chapman, and immediately behind in the engine room was NSW’s biggest gun, Tom Laurich from Mosman. In four, three and two were Alfred’s SUBC club mates – Pragnell, Hegerty and Ryan. The bow position was handled by Sam Loch, who returned to Australia from Princeton in 2006 and achieved selection this year in the Olympic eight along with cox Rabjohns.

The draw, which saw the most favoured crews of NSW and Victoria in Lanes one and six, on opposite sides of the course, was always going to affect how the race was run, but ultimately heightened the tension of an incredibly close finish.

The West Australians began like an express train in the following conditions and knocked over the first 500 in 1.21.25, taking a 2.5sec lead over NSW with the Victorians only 0.17sec behind.
The second 500m saw NSW cut the Sandgropers’ lead by 1.2sec and at the 100m WA led NSW by 1.3sec, with Victoria another 0.04sec behind.

It was still WA at the 1500m, but in the last 500m NSW sliced the lead quickly and shot ahead of WA with about 350m to go. The Victorians also overtook WA, and with legends James Tomkins and Drew Ginn on board, anything was likely.

But NSW withheld the challenge, although it took a photo to prove it.
The emotions of the crews and the crowd combined with a thrilling race made it one of the most memorable of all Kings Cups.

As Francis Hegerty summed up: “I looked across to the Victorians and saw them slumped in the boat and said ‘YESSS’!!”