FOX SPORTS’ cameras head to the golden west of Sydney tonight, with the Greater Sydney Rams hosting their first TV game of the 2015 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship, against the North Harbour Rays at Pirtek Stadium in Parramatta.
To say the Rams have been unlucky this season would be the mother of all understatement. Yet to record a win in their five games, three of their losses have earned bonus points for losing by eight points or less. Of those three, their Round 1 loss to NSW Country and the Round 4 loss to Melbourne were by just one point.
Even worse, in both games, they scored more tries than their opposition and were let down by their goal-kicking; the Rams currently have the worst record in the competition, having kicked just 12 of 24 attempts. Winger Matt Teki kicked 4/4 on the weekend against the Sydney Stars on debut, and is the only one of five Greater Sydney kickers with a record better than 50% in 2015.
Rams’ Captain, Jed Holloway, says they’ve been there or there about, but just haven’t quite nailed the complete performance.
“Oh mate, it’s a head-scratcher,” he told me this week, for www.BuildcorpNRC.com.au. “It’s definitely frustrating. If we kick all our goals against NSW Country, Queensland Country, and Melbourne Rising, and we could be three from five and be in a really good position.”
And of course, he’s right. If the Rams win those three games, they’d replace Melbourne in fourth spot on the table. Viewed in that context, their place at the bottom of the NRC table looks a bit rough.
“It’s just the tale of the tape; that’s the NRC for you. With free-flowing rugby, you’ve got to make your [three-point] conversions count. And unfortunately, on the weekend, our conversions did count, he hit 100%, but we just couldn’t score the tries,” Holloway says, with a strong hint of Murphy’s Law.
The frustration from Sunday’s loss to the Stars is immediate in Holloway’s voice. The match at Leichhardt Oval, bathed in sunshine, and with the Stars coming back to earth in recent weeks after an impressive start, represented a massive opportunity for the Rams to show the rest for the NRC that their table position wasn’t justified. Instead, they tried to be something they just aren’t.
“I think on Sunday, we were most disappointed about going away from our identity. We’re not a big, physical forward pack, we never have been over the two seasons, but we try to play with a bit of finesse, we try to play ball-in-hand, and we just felt like we were trying to run over the top of bodies. We were trying to do stuff that Rams Rugby doesn’t do, and you know, the Stars are a good enough team to make us pay for that,” Holloway said.
For Holloway himself, it’s been a welcome return to playing again, after missing the opening few games to a lower back injury. He had similar trouble last season, too, though he said this week that whereas last season’s injury was more about his lower back “getting jammed up each game”, this time around it was just a slightly slipped disc.
“I’m on top of it now, my back feels really good again after the few weeks’ break,” he said.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the Rams have looked better with Holloway back at no.8, and the return of lock Marcus Carbone has had a similar stabilising effect on the young Rams pack.
“I’m just enjoying every minute being out there again, and trying to give 110% to get the result for the team. And though it hasn’t quite been happening, I still believe we’re not too far off and will get the win sooner rather than later.”
The Rams’ catchment area is massive, representing five Sydney clubs and the fastest-growing population base in Australia, and including a large Polynesian and Indigenous populations that the club sees very much as the fabric of their future. Results on the field will go a long way toward fulfilling those goals off the field.
“First and foremost, Jim [Williams, Rams’ Franchise Coach] is a world-class coach, and he has done a great job in realising that he has a widespread group that hasn’t really played together a lot. But it all comes down to the guys, and the players from last year and this year have all been unreal,” Holloway, also the Southern Districts Captain, says.
“The boys from Eastwood, Parramatta, Penrith, and the West Harbour boys; they’re all top blokes, and we set out the rules at the start of the year, that once you pull on the jersey, you’re representing the Greater Sydney Rams, and you’ve got to do it with pride and you have to buy in.
“We want people playing for the Rams, and representing the region with pride. Even though I don’t have a strong connection with the west, I have a very strong connection with the south, and I’m coming to love the Greater Sydney Rams, because I really want to see us develop into a big thing within our region.”
Form-wise, Holloway is hitting his straps again in the NRC as a crafty ball-carrying no.8, and is a very clever lineout operator for someone so easily forgotten is still not yet 23. With Wycliff Palu heading to Japan after the Rugby World Cup, the Waratahs-contracted Holloway can obviously sense an opportunity.
And rediscovering his uncanny 2014 knack of running in long-range tries can only help. Holloway has three tries from his last two games, with two of them coming from support runs back near the halfway line.
“Yeah, I was pretty lucky on the weekend,” Holloway laughs. “I saw ‘Pauly’ [Asquith, the Rams outside centre] played on with advantage, and he gave it to ‘Doogs’ [inside centre Michel McDougall] on about the halfway line. ‘ Dougs’ chucked me a shocker, and then I just switched to the left hand and pinned the ears back for the corner.”
“I hope it looked quick on TV, because I didn’t feel like I was moving that quickly; I thought was on a treadmill there for a second. But yeah, it seems to be my thing at the moment, running them in from way out.”
The Rams’ first TV game represents a great opportunity to post that first win. North Harbour have been similarly hot and cold, and though they ran with the ominous-looking University of Canberra side last weekend into the second half, they ultimately couldn’t withstand the Vikings’ late points barrage.
“I thought the momentum on the weekend was shifting our way early on, and that was just by us playing to our identity and throwing the ball around. It’s just playing rugby, which is what we’re all here to do; we’re all good rugby players and we can all do it.
“We just need to focus on us, and not worry about which Rays guys we’ve got to go after or target, and what they’re going to do. We just need to sort out our maul defence, for one, because they’ve scored about four tries off those of late. And then also, we just need to make sure we’re up for it, because to be honest with you, on the weekend, I think we went in there thinking we deserved to get the win. I have no doubt the boys will turn up, but it’s a matter of turning up with the right attitude.”
THURSDAY: Greater Sydney Rams v North Harbour Rays, at Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta, from 7:35pm AEST. Tickets from www.ramsrugby.com.au and at the gate: Adults from $15 and kids under 15 free.