Not gonna lie, I called that the QLD and VIC game would be the clash of Round 2 and thought this one would be a little less exciting. BUT when I’m wrong, I’ll come out and say I’m wrong (ask any of my exes, it’s really hard for me to admit that haha).
This game was an ABSOLUTE cracker!
After some delays in kick off (which was apparently caused by NSW running late), this clash got started at 1pm. The Wolfpack received the ball and were immediately held to a 3 and out. When the ball was punted away to the Sharks, the Wolfpack returned the favour and kept them to a 3 and out as well. This set up NSW’s first scoring series. The Wolfpack decided to run the ball, using SA’s weakness from Round 1 against them. It seemed that SA Defensive Coordinator Carlisle Jones really worked on the Sharks run defense as they were able to keep NSW to minimal gains; compared to Luke Jackson’s huge runs last week. The lack of yards on the ground forced QB Jordan Nikora to start passing. This paid off well for the Wolfpack, as Nikora found WR Andrew Ghaly on a fade route to set NSW, 1st and 10 on the SA 13-yard line. On the next series, Nikora took a snap and faked a handoff to FB John Maumau and rolled out of the pocket to the left. Seeing nothing downfield, Nikora tucked the ball and ran, dipping the shoulder and juking out DB Brad Vegera, before diving for the pylon. Aaron McEvoy sunk the PAT and brought the score to 7-0 for the Wolfpack.
On O, the Sharks didn’t have an answer for the NSW D. QB Michael Tedmanson was able to move the ball well but focused heavily on their passing game; lining up in an empty set on all their snaps. The Wolfpack took the ball back on the halfway line after a Sharks punt. On this next series, the Sharks would find their break, with DB Sam Meyers picking off Nikora on a curl route pass to WR Andrew Ghaly. Meyers would run this back for a score and get the Sharks their first points for the 2018 AGL Campaign. The blame can be thrown any which way but this was just a great read by Meyers, who only gave Ghaly a 5-yard cushion, before closing the distance and taking the pick.
This must have fired up the NSW O, as they came back in the very next series and replied with authority. After a good kick return by Rustum Todd, NSW went back to what they do best and move the ball on the ground. RB Jody Luisi was able to pick up some good yards on the ground, giving NSW a 1st and 10 on the SA 33-yard line. On the snap, Nikora handed the ball off to FB John Maumau, who should be called Beast Mode after this run. Maumau broke through the line, breaking tackles left, right and centre, and stiff-armed DB Darren Lague to add the exclamation point on the run. Call me biased, but this run was reminiscent of Marshawn’s run against the Saints; Maumau used his speed and power to break through the line and stepped around any would be tacklers.
SA were still struggling to get their O into gear, being forced to punt from inside their own end zone. On the ensuing series, the Wolfpack continued to move the ball well on the ground. But once they went to the air, they struggled against the strong SA secondary. This became evident on a 3rd and 14 for NSW. Nikora was chased out of the pocket by DE Ross Riach and LB Damian Volar and was forced to pass under pressure. He again looked to hit Andrew Ghaly but he threw on the back foot and the pass was very underthrown. Ghaly was already deep downfield and the pass came down about 5 yards short of his positon; perfect for Meyers to reach out one hand and pick up his second pick of the game. Again, nothing on Nikora’s ability but this was just a great play by both the SA D Line and secondary.
But again, on every mistake made by the Wolfpack, the D came back out and replied almost instantly. SA started to move the ball on the ground and looked to RB Isaac Musallam on an outside run. NSW did well to contain him and were able to strip the ball and turn it over inside the SA red zone. This all came from the work of DE Tim Clulow, who stepped up and shed the block of OL Dan O’Connell, then sped to the outside and was able to take the ball away from Musallam before he was able to step out. NSW then capitalized on their position, with Nikora tossing the ball to RB Adam Simpson on an option play and Simpson finding the end zone to take their lead to 2 TDs.
Again, the SA O struggled to find their rhythm. Tedmanson tried moving the ball through the air but wasn’t able to find anyone, and this was evident when he decided to run the ball himself on 2nd down. After punting the ball away again, the SA D did well to hold NSW from getting another first down. This put HC Jason Ray in a predicament. Punt the ball away or attempt a 44-yard field goal? Coach Ray decided to give Aaron McEvoy a crack, and on came “Legatron.” Pearson snapped, Donaghy held and Legatron put his foot through it. Mind you, when this went over the black dot of the cross bar, it still had some distance on it so I’m curious to know how far out he can actually sink a FG from.
Right before the break for halftime (yes all this happened in the first half, told you it was a cracker of a game), Tedmanson finally got his break with his O. On a 3rd and 10 on his own 33-yard line, he found WR Sebastian Burford on 3-yard slant route. Burford took the pass and an error in communication with the NSW DBs left Burford wide open with just S Ehron Noakes to beat. Burford put the burners on and was able to just step out of the tackle from Noakes; running the ball in for SA’s first offensive TD of the AGL.
The 3rd quarter was another back and forth battle with minimal action. SA were able to kick an early FG to bring the score to within 7, before NSW replied late in the 3rd. The Wolfpack switched it up under centre, bringing in UNSW Raiders QB Lukas Vojnar. And the Raiders connection worked perfectly, as he was able to find WR Rustum Todd on a seam route, 1 on 1 with the DB. Rusty took the catch and beat his man into the end zone to add more points to the Wolfpack’s total.
Midway through the 4th, SA were able to mount a small comeback after DB Henry Olsson picked off Vojnar and brought the ball back to the NSW 20-yard line. On the very next play, Tedmanson found Burford on a fly route and after a major error in the NSW secondary, Burford walked in for another SA TD and brought down the deficit to 8 points. With the game this close, HC Jason Ray decided to put more pressure on the SA defense and this paid off with a 10-yard run by RB Godfred Agyemang, putting the final score at 38-23.
Like I said, what a cracker of a game. The first half was full of action and even though they lost, the Sharks didn’t make it an easy win for the Wolfpack. This weekend, the Wolfpack will enjoy the bye, whilst the Sharks will have a tough outing in the form of the defending champion QLD Sun Devils.
Final Score: SA 23 – 38 NSW