Rockingham Sharks 21 North Beach Sea Eagles 20
How good was that?” asked a member. Another, in a mood of pure ecstasy, recalled the day in 1992 when a Rockingham club (the Raiders) first beat South Perth.
It was that sort of day – a day full of surprises – a day to make the critics eat their own words, and a day that gave new heart – and hope – to a competition dominated thus far by two teams.
Whatever happens next, and sport has a habit of kicking you in the teeth when you think you are on a winning run (just ask Sea Eagles coach John Hough), Round 12 for the Rockingham Sharks may well mark a major turning point in their 2019 season.
So what was the difference? The difference between previous games, where wins were gained, but they weren’t pretty to watch.
The difference was commitment from a group of players who are starting to believe in themselves.
The difference was a halfback combination that is working – and talking – and the difference was line speed and dominance.
Everyone, in the second half of this extraordinary game, stood up to be counted.
When it came to 3-2-1 and MVPs, it was a tough call, as so many had experienced their best games of the season.
From one to 17, everyone played their part.
Sean Scott’s winning field goal was the icing on the cake – a smart move at the end of a set that was going nowhere.
Better to come away with something in such a tight game – and that extra point proved the difference.
Scott and Benton Leme Pyako seemed to have found a formula to drive the team – with no disrespect to others this combination certainly worked on Saturday.
The quietly-spoken Papua New Guinean had his best game since returning to the club last month.
But the forwards must take a lot of credit – and skipper Reece Potter led by example.
His best game in a Sharks jumper for a long time.
From a shaky start that saw the Sharks down by 14 points, words were spoken, and listened to.
“We always have a quiet period and that was ours, we shouted ‘no more’ let’s get back in this game,” Potter said afterwards.
And they did.
Marcus Ngaro was first to cross before Hayden Scott added another to send a message to the opposition they were in a game.
Josh Neal copped a sin-bin either side of the break, but sat there eager to return to the fray, eyes focussed, intent on atoning for that late tackle. He did.
At the break, it was all to play for, although the Sea Eagles had shown they were a danger, with pace and quick play the ball. In that first half they were controlling the ruck – that had to change.
It did. “We spoke about that at halftime,” Potter said. “We all knew we had to step up.”
The second-half arm wrestle – and that was what it was – was one of the best halves of rugby league you will see at the Rockingham Mazda Arena this season. Maybe for a few seasons.
Benton pulled it back level early and the Sharks were on a roll.
The visitors dominance disappeared as line speed picked up, big hits were now the norm and the Sea Eagles struggled for options.
Sean Scott’s try put the home side in front – and well deserved. They were now the dominant team.
But there was along way to go – 20-plus minutes – of wondering what might come next.
North Beach are top of the ladder for good reason – they may have have had a few out injured, but it can be argued, so did the Sharks.
One could sense the frustration from the away bench as the clocked ticked down – slowly. With every set, and penalty, the Sharks grew taller, refusing to buckle and forcing error after error.
Another penalty, another call out to the skipper to get his team in order – and away we went again.
But that line could have been 100 metres away as the boys in blue stood firm and played as a team, together, patting each other on the back when a hit went in, or an error was forced.
When Scott kicked that goal to ensure North Beach had to score twice to win, we knew we were in a for a grandstand finish.
And that is exactly what we got.
Seven minutes to play – and all to play for.
Eventually the visitors got across the line – under the posts – and we were down to a one-point game with four minutes left.
Those four minutes for many watching seemed like four hours.
Why can’t clocks go faster?
The Eagles got the ball from the kick-off but lost it three tackles later.
The Sharks tried to finish it off but gave it back and as we entered the final minute, and with the Sea Eagles still hunting for a gap, those boys in black and blue came up with another error – to allow the finals seconds, in possession, to tick away.
What a day, what a game, what a finish.
And what next?
With a bye this weekend, the Sharks need to win their remaining games to make finals – on this performance, they deserve to.
PS: not to be outdone, reserves pulled off an amazing 28-24 win with Keiren Crowe’s try on the hooter the difference, to keep them in finals contention. And Val Murphy Thirds toughed it out for a 22-14 win to stay top.
*Pictures: Courtesy of Nancye Perrin