Penalty kick on full time saves the day
Sam Jurisich kicks Palmyra to victory on full time to walk away victors over Wests 21-19
It was a reasonably good day at the office for Palmyra on Sunday, with five wins and two losses in seniors, albeit one win was a forfeit and another was a bye.
Premier Grade won in dramatic fashion, courtesy of a last gasp penalty shot at goal by Sam Juresich.
The game began with Wests dominating the first fifteen minutes and they were unlucky not to be in front by that time, with two relatively straight forward penalties not being converted into points by their kicker and Force recruit, Jayden Hayward.
Palmyra’s revival then began with a strong run by Sean Stapleton up the sideline, gaining 30 metres of territory. An infringement by Wests at the breakdown 40 metres from the posts led to a penalty which was slotted by Jurisich.
This was followed by a bullocking break by Force prop Salesi Manu which drove Palmyra 30 metres upfield, superbly backed up by fellow prop Joe Savage, who gained a further 30 metres of territory before Wests were able to stop him. Wests infringed at the breakdown, giving Juresich a penalty right in front of goal which he had no difficulty in converting into points.
Wests were not to be intimidated however and immediately took it back to Palmyra and they too were rewarded with a penalty 20 metres from the posts. This time Hayward made no mistake with his kick.
The ascendency for the rest of the first half see-sawed intermittently between the two sides. Palmyra lost strapping home grown Flanker Hayden Croghan to a cut above the eye which bled profusely, and subsequently required seven stitches.
West had a further opportunity to advance with a kickable penalty which hit the post and was cleared by Palmyra, and thereafter it was an ongoing exchange of penalties, with neither side being able to capitalise and neither looking like they were going to score tries despite the enthusiastic and exuberant efforts of referee John Hill who gave both teams every conceivable opportunity of doing so.
Wests however appeared more desperate in the dying minutes of the half, and their determination paid off when they scored near the posts after some scrambled and uncoordinated defence by Palmyra was not enough to prevent a breakthrough. The try was converted by Hayward , and the score at the break was 10 -6 to Wests.
Palmyra regrouped at the commencement of the second half, and were awarded a difficult 40 metre penalty which they were unable to convert into points. Being an equal opportunity referee, Hill gave Wests another chance at a penalty from 25 metres, which Hayward gratefully accepted, and Wests led 13 – 6.
This seemed to sting Palmyra into redoubling their efforts. Captain Savage set up a try from a powerful pass out of a scrambling ruck, the ball ended up in the safe hands of winger Steven Cullingworth and he scurried over the line untouched for a straight forward try. The extra points were added by Jurisich, and it was game on again, with the score 13 all.
Wests remained unfazed, and were soon awarded yet another penalty after a Palmyra player knocked on after charging down a Wests kick (Yes, they do award penalties for knock ons these days, apparently). Hayward had no trouble converting it into points, and Wests were in the lead again.
Two further kickable penalties ensued, one to each club, neither of which resulted in points.
Palmyra then again lifted its work rate. A scrum 5 or so metres from the Wests line displayed the power of its pack when allowed to do its job. Clinically they marched Wests backwards, there were two serious off side infringements by desperate Wests defenders which went serenely unnoticed as the Palmyra halfback was about to score from the base of the pack, and inexplicably (to Palmyra supporters at least) a penalty kick was awarded to Wests instead of a penalty try to Palmyra.
The deep resulting kick put Wests into Palmyra’s half and a further penalty to Wests 20 metres in front of goal led to Hayward securing another 3 points for his team.
From the kick off Savage secured the ball and offloaded, replacement prop Conor Higgins received the pass and charged downfield before the ball was eventually offloaded again to to outside centre Tutere Waenga who scored in the corner, unfortunately injuring himself (not seriously) in the process. The conversion was missed by Jurisich, the score card then being 19 -18 in West’s favour, and time fast running out for Palmyra..
Palmyra secured the ball from the kickoff, and penetrated deep into West’s half; referee Hill spotted a Wests infringement near the sideline and awarded Palmyra a near impossible penalty kick.
With seconds only of time remaining, and in almost perfect silence, Jurisich took the shot which sailed coolly over the crossbar. Hill blew the full time whistle, and Palmyra emerged an unlikely winner in the circumstances.
Both forward packs played well, though Palmyra had the ascendency in the set pieces, with Savage, Shane Manu and Salesi Manu, and later Conor Higgins, controlling the scrums, and James Riddell dominating most lineouts.
Best player for Palmyra was Sean Stapleton who was everywhere in defence, shutting Hayward out of the game, while Savage led through experience and example, and Riddell was exceptional, both in the lineouts and in his support of the ball carriers.
Some of Palmyra’s newer backs seemed awed by the occasion and did not reach the heights they displayed in the trial games but this was probably due in part to the ferocity of the West backline in defence, generalled by Hayward, and the fact that this was the first game most had played in together. To their credit, their confidence grew as the game progressed.
All in all it was a thrilling encounter between two competent teams, played fairly and in good spirit with no quarter asked or given, and until the last second could have gone either way.