By Dan Walsh
Coach Peter Ross says this is the most talented team Patrician Brothers Blacktown has ever produced, and it was hard to argue with him as his side outmuscled two-time defending champions Hills Sports High 24-10 on Wednesday.
In front of an extremely vocal and even more parochial crowd at St Mary’s Leagues Stadium, the boys from Blacktown effectively belted Hills out of semi-finals contention with a near flawless first half display of powerful running and brutal defence.
With the kind of performance that has rivals looking over their shoulders and NRL talent scouts salivating, Ross declared his current side as the finest the prestigious college had produced.
“We’ve had some outstanding teams in the past, but this team’s got that bit of an X factor to it that maybe we haven’t had in the past. We’ve got that pretty good balance of speed and strength and the boys have got a lot of commitment to each other,” said Ross, who has coached the likes of NRL stars Jamie Buhrer and Wade Graham in the past.
And the epitome of that speed and strength was hulking prop Pauli Pauli, whose 60 metre runaway try in the 20th minute drew comparisons with the recent efforts of NSW and Kangaroos star James Tamou.
“[Pauli’s] a front rower in a back’s body or the other way around, I’m not too sure but he’s dynamic, he’s absolutely dynamic. He is that X-factor I spoke about,” Ross said of the Eels Toyota Cup star who also claimed man of the match honours.
“He and a couple of the other boys have got that something special. He’s got a big future ahead of him I believe. Time will tell but so far so good.”
However Pauli, who tips the scales at 110 kg and also recently represented NSW in the Junior State of Origin, laughed off the comparison with the Cowboys enforcer.
“I’m no James Tamou, I thought I was going to get caught because the fullback’s supposed to be the fastest in the team, but somehow I managed to get the extra metre to score the try.”
The Patrician Brothers forward pack, ably led by NSW U/18’s representatives Pauli, Bryce Cartwright and Darwin-born Chris Smith dominated proceedings from the outset, repeatedly bashing and bullying Hills into uncharacteristic errors to provide an excellent platform for their little men to control the game.
Halves Dylan Izzard and Sione Tonga duly obliged, laying on a third minute try to Cartwright before Izzard himself jinked and stepped his way over from short range soon after, while Pauli’s barnstorming effort gave his side a decisive 18-0 halftime lead.
But Hills proved they are not defending champions for nothing, with captain Brandan Attwood registering his side’s first points in the 38th minute when he fell on a pin point grubber from Tigers SG Ball hooker Manaia Cherrington.
As a Hills comeback loomed both sides upped the ante with some heavy if not slightly illegal hitting, thrilling the large crowd and putting the referees and officials on edge, though Hills coach Mark Horo was adamant his team did not lose their heads with the match on the line.
But while the match was won up front, it was one of Blacktown’s little men who sealed the result. Fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak proved as hard to catch as his last name is to pronounce, sprinting 50 metres to score in the corner with just seven minutes left.
Izzard’s sideline conversion, his fourth from as many attempts, put the match beyond doubt, and despite a late try from centre Fabian Goodall, Hills finished on the wrong end of the score line for the first time in two years.
Patrician Brothers now face the winless Farrer Agricultural High School, where a win will confirm their progression through to the GIO Cup semi finals, while Hills coach Mark Horo indicated he would view the side’s final pool match against St Gregory’s of Campbelltown as a chance to begin planning for next season’s campaign.
Patrician Brothers Blacktown 24 (B Cartwright, D Izzard, P Pauli, D Watene-Zelezniak tries; D Izzard 4 goals) def. Hills Sports High (B Attwood, F Goodall tries; Z Clay goal) at St Mary’s Leagues Stadium