Eastern Suburbs’ 2017 Shute Shield campaign has had some good old fashion country air breathed into it after a stunning 33-19 triumph over Gordon at Wade Park on Saturday.
The two clubs agreed to move their round seven first grade clash west in a beach to bush promotion in Orange, one heavily backed by the 1500 people that streamed through the Wade Park gates.
The bumper crowd was on its feet early, too, when Orange City junior Jack Grant orchestrated a clever run-around play to send fullback Tom Pincus over for the game’s first try two minutes into the match.
That scintillating start set to the tone for Easts opening half – it was emphatic.
Further tries to Grant and then prop Tom Sheminant, both converted by the sweet right boot of Pincus, led to a comprehensive 21-0 lead at the break.
Gordon offered little in attack and was stand-offish in defence during the opening term. More of the same in the second half and Easts would have racked up a score most cricket teams would envy at Wade Park during the summer months.
But Gordon, despite being down fullback Bill Freeman after he was yellow carded for a sloppy challenge mid-air on Easts’ No.8 Sam Jackson late in the first half, hit back – in a big way too.
Reminiscent of the sort of play Easts dished up in the opening 40 minutes, the Highlanders raced in tries to Erik Moss and skipper Jack Maguire, his an unlikely intercept on halfway, to peg the Beasties’ advantage back to just a converted try, 21-14.
Then, with 16 minutes remaining, the contest was turned on its head when the stags’ flying winger Paula Balekana latched on to a mesmerising long ball from rookie flyhalf Patolo Toeta and streaked 40 metres to score the try of the game.
The conversion from the sideline missed, but at 21-19 the result was anything but a forgone conclusion.
Smarting after a period skipper Tim Buchanan said his side switched off during, Easts lifted in the final 10 minutes. They had to. With five losses on the board already, season 2017 depended on it.
Clarrie Moore scored for Easts soon after while James Field, arguably the Beasties best at inside centre, capped a fine game in the midfield with a try moments before fulltime to ensure the hosts ran out 33-19 victors.
“We were desperate for that win,” Buchanan said after the clash.
“It didn’t look like it there in the second half when Gordon came back and we were a bit flat, but to get a win, especially with a few of the local boys, to come out and get a win in front of their home crowd was fantastic.”
Eastern Suburbs’ opening 40 minutes was brilliant, based on that alone Buchanan’s side deserved to win.
Former Lions gun Jack Grant was pivotal in that period too, setting up a try and scoring another, his five-pointer in the book after a sneaky dart to the left of the ruck close to the line.
Grant threw the last pass for Moore’s try late in the game, too, rounding out a great individual performance for the Orange product on home soil.
“We came out really well. We’ve been working on our execution and finishing off and we got a few tries in that first half which was pleasing,” Buchanan added.
Gordon’s skipper, Maguire lamented such a lackadaisical opening to the memorable clash.
Zero line speed in defence and some poor handling meant the Highlanders ventured into Easts’ 22 just once in the opening 40 minutes.
“We left too much to do in the second half, we were just really lazy in that first half, didn’t get up off our own line,” Maguire said.
“Proud of the guys to get back into it but it was just a bridge too far. We left it too late.”
Gordon No.8 Talalelei Moli and Toeta, who came to life in the second stanza, were two of the visitors’ best.
At the completion of round seven, Gordon (eighth) and Easts (ninth) have plenty of work to do to get back in the race for finals places.
Gordon, especially, considering next week’s clash is against Manly, the undefeated competition leaders.
“We just need to go back to the drawing board. We’ve got a couple of tough weeks, we’ve got Manly next week … they’re going to be a tough challenge,” Maguire said.
“We really need to rip in at training this week and hopefully come up with the upset next week.”
In other Shute Shield clashes to complete round seven, Manly defeated Norths 23-18 in a top of the table clash, Parramatta proved too good for Penrith 26-20, Randwick and Eastwood fought out a 24-all draw, Sydney Uni won 33-29 over Warringa and Southern Districts racked up a 34-27 win over West Harbour.
EASTS 33 (Tom Pincus, James Field, Jack Grant, Clarrie Moore, Tom Sheminant tries; Tom Pincus 4 conv) def GORDON 19 (Paula Balekana, Erik Moss, Jack Maguire tries; Mike Kennedy 2 conv)