Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment, as the saying goes. And so it proved at Kellyville Park on Saturday afternoon when the Sydney Metro League ladder leaders TAFE NSW downed a gallant Sydney Uni 12-10 with a converted try in the last play of the match.
Question marks remain over the length of the second half, which provided the Polecats with enough time to snatch victory. And the sin-binning of Uni prop Ben Workman for a shoulder charge nine minutes from time seemed harsh. The big Cessnock merchant banker was guilty of not using his arms in the tackle, but the same offence had gone unpunished all game, and the main perpetrator was the Polecats’ No. 7.
Still, Uni were in front 10-0 with about 10 minutes to go, 10-6 with about five to go, and twice put themselves in a position to save the match with solid goal-line defence.
As player-coach Jake Vrahnos lamented “it was just experience at the end”.
“We didn’t trust our processes,” he said. “Had we stuck to our processes at the end we would have held on and won.
“Physicality was also a factor, and we were playing against a group who are 15-to-20-year rugby league players. They have game conditioning and physicality.”
The first half was an arm wrestle and neither side put points on the board although both created opportunities. TAFE were pulled back twice for forward passes, while Vrahnos’s pin-point cross-field bombs had the Polecats’ right winger under more pressure than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Workman was obviously relishing his return to the paddock after a week off and right centre Ben Reupena was playing as if to let Blues coach Freddie Fittler know there are a plenty of options to cover for Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic come Origin time.
Uni had repelled some solid Polecat charges with resolute goal-line defence, and with ball in hand were playing with slightly more flair. The Lions always looked the team more likely to break the deadlock.
A brilliant scything 40-metre run from ball-playing lock Harry Croker almost produced the first try. The Newcastle Express was pulled up about eight metres out from the “station”, but not being held in the tackle, he fired up the engine and looked certain to go in under posts. Credit to the desperation of the Polecats who arrived to pull him up agonisingly close.
Uni maintained field position and about 10 minutes into the second stanza were rewarded for sustained pressure when replacement middle forward Will Schofield charged over following some classic Vrahnos probing and scheming.
“Schoey” was nearly over again not long after, and then Uni were desperately close off a Vrahnos grubber. Finally, it took a “Kangaroo court” two tackles into a repeat set and sweating on the Polecats’ line. Former Wagga Kangaroos dummy-half Wil Hurst, and backrower John Downes combined for the latter to touch down after a typical barnstorming run. “Missile-boot” Max Linden-Smith converted and at 10-0 the game was Uni’s to lose with 11 minutes to play.
Backs Lakepa Rika and Christian Maini were performing strongly. Downes was Downes, and his efforts and those of fellow forwards Myles Fowler, Kade Spear, and Josh Hayes deserved reward.
But in a possible sign of nervousness, the Students knocked on from the kick-off. Nevertheless, they withstood concerted TAFE attacks, only to keep turning the ball over before reaching safe territory. Inevitably the Polecats turned their field position and plethora of possession into points – a converted try.
At this stage I made it about five or six minutes to go. The Polecats were enthused, Big Ben was sent to the sideline pews, and the timekeepers were possibly confused. The game went for another eight minutes.
Uni are to be commended for defending so strongly with 12 men. But they let themselves down getting out of trouble with ball in hand. The ref also found reason to penalise them regularly in the closing stages. Turnovers and time took their toll. With their last roll of the dice, the Polecats scored adjacent to the posts and the conversion gave them the chocolates.
Uni players’ player points: Myles Fowler 3 (Man of the Match), John Downes 2, Jake Vrahnos 1.
TAFE NSW 12 beat Sydney University 10 (Schofield, Downes tries; Linden-Smith conv)
Report thanks to Halage Media. Words by Dac Croker.
Coming up: SURLFC Old Boys’ Day, July 9th at No. 2 Oval Camperdown Campus (aka Sydney Uni Football Ground). See you there!