Look out. The Stars have done it again, this time beating Queensland Country in a thrilling night game at Leichhardt Oval, notching up a score that would make a cricketer happy with 50 points on the board.
A crisp night and a dry track. It was try-scoring mania out there, and credit must go to referee Graham Cooper for allowing the game to flow.
The faithful turned up and not a regret in sight; the mid-week fixture proving a great way to shake up the work week as the crowd lapped up miles of running rugby.
The Stars were under the pump early, with Country having all the ball and territory until a big defensive hit from Pat McCutcheon turned her over to give the Stars their first possession after 7 minutes. Flanker and Captain David Hickey then chased a kick and regathered possession at the halfway mark to relieve the pressure.
The first score of the game came off a deft grubber from the left wing, Harry Jones, who found himself two on two and in space, opting to kick ahead rather than take the ball into contact or draw and pass. The bounce was uglier than you’d expect from an AFL ball yet somehow he managed an impossible regather and ran away to finish off a 50m try. Audible gasps.
Queensland Country hit back almost immediately, with centre Duncan Paia’aua effecting a sublime draw and flick pass to put his mate Perese down the left wing, untouched for a return 50m try.
This seemed to put a rod in the back of the Stars, who marched deep into Country territory. Henry Clunies-Ross had acres of space on the right wing and begged for the ball, staring at a defensive hole so large you could run 14 fighter jets through it. Very little grace in the flight of the ball as it clunked from hand to hand, bludgeoning its way across just in time for Clunies-Ross to sneak over in the right corner.
By this stage 15minutes in and three tries scored.
The game then took an unfortunate turn for Clunies-Ross; his foot pointing the wrong way after emerging from an awkward breakdown. A shame to see that happen to anyone; let along someone playing so well.
Country started to find their gear with left wing Izaia Perese causing all sorts for the Stars in counter attack. Outside centre Chris Feauai-Sautia then broke the line to run towards the posts, only to pass unnecessarily to James Taylor who scored under the posts thank you very much. This broke the longest phase of play with no tries; a whole ten minutes which was a drought on this cool midweek evening.
Country now had the lead for the first time in the match, 13-16.
Next to score was Stars prop Tom Robertson who cashed in off a massive don’t argue by outside centre Jim Stewart, who bulldozed over some poor unsuspecting folk before setting up the glory-hunting tight-head prop. Stars resumed the lead.
Great defence from the Stars, led by Hickey, kept the heat on the opposition until Queensland Country lent in with a monster tackle that could be heard in row z.
It wasn’t enough to turn the pressure valve off as the Stars won a penalty in front, then opted for the lineout just before the half time bell. They spurned the penalty goal; the petty two.
Their enterprise was rewarded with a quick lineout and viscous rolling maul, which Country had no option but to collapse. The ensuing penalty led halfback Jake Gordon to take a quick tap, duck and dive to score a cheeky.
Harry Jones must have had the good oranges at half time because he bolted out the stable, effecting a pitch-perfect 60m grubber to immediately force Queensland back into their 22.
Not long after the Stars earned another penalty before opting to kick to the corner instead of the posts.
How much can a team hate a penalty goal.
Again their optimism paid off, Hickey swan diving off the back of a rolling maul to score their 5th try of the evening.
Scores were now 37-16 and the gulf seemed too wide for the visitors until they kicked into gear again, causing havoc with sleek inside running lines. Two unanswered tries levelled the scores to 37-32.
Enter "Piggie" Robinson, who seemed disappointed with this turn of events. He decided to collect the ball after the restart and trudge, in slow motion, towards the line. Barnstorming his way down field, bumping from man to man like a bowling ball. If watching a prop make a break and canter in slow motion could be called beautiful, then surely this was a beautiful thing.
This got a couple of the boys interested, with Tom Kingston not wanting to be showed up, producing a couple of dance moves as he pirouetted up the field. This seemed to excite Stars lock Matt Philip who put himself into contention for play of the day as he careered into 16 men and two touches before reaching under the posts to score.
50 on the board, bat in the air.
Country scored with 8 minutes to go, to scrape within 10 points and ensure a tight finish, showing some real mettle in the process.
Just as things were looking a bit nervous for the home team, Jim Stewart made a cracking steal and pleased the crowd and probably his coaches, diffusing a late surge by Country and in doing so snuffed out the game.
Another dominating scrum was a credit to the Stars front row Jeremy Tilse, James Hanson and Tom Robertson, and while both teams were throwing the ball around, the Stars’ supreme handling might have proved the difference.
Sydney Stars 50 (H Jones, H Clunies-Ross, T Robertson 2, J Gordon, D Hickey, M Philip tries; A Roberts 4, J McGregor cons) defeated Queensland Country 40 (I Perese 2, J Tuttle, S Greene, D Paia'aua tries; S Greene 5 cons) at Leichhardt Oval