Midwinter Cup 2014 Report
The third annual Midwinter Cup has seen the crowning of a third new champion, with UNSW’s accomplished Snapes On A Plane finally adding a Midwinter title to their two QUAFL crowns. The Snapes proved once and for all that they have unmatched strength in depth, overcoming the loss of their Global Games stars to top the table undefeated on Saturday and then rally to overcome the fully firing Fireballs on Sunday. The hosts had stepped up from a scratchy Saturday with an impressive Sunday that looked set to finally bring them a first major trophy, but once again they were cruelly denied in the decider by their great Sydney rivals.
Game 1 – Newcastle vs Wollongong
As they did in the inaugural 2012 tournament, the Fireballs and Warriors opened Midwinter 2014. These teams have made rather a habit of playing each other early on Saturday mornings at major tournaments, usually resulting in Newcastle victory. But Wollongong won the last time the two teams met in April and brought a far more experienced side to the party.
It was therefore no surprise that it was tight early. Newcastle had the greater firepower, but they were plagued by the teething problems inherent in blooding a new team. It was the underdogs who spent more time in the early lead.
The first goal of the tournament was scored by Ezekiel Azib. James Mortensen quickly equalised and combined with Matt Ingram to share the early Fireball goals. But Wollongong captain Jacob Fleming was a class act, responding in kind and preserving a 30-20 lead before the balance began to shift.
Newcastle’s control of the chaser game was negated by some poor late options and by the brilliant dexterity of Aman Nalli and the rotating guile of Hannah Davidson and Morgan Legg at the back. The Warriors’ beaters made Newcastle’s rookie bludging roster look slightly out of their depth early, which was enough to keep them well in the contest for an extended period.
Mortensen was ruthless, piling up seven goals, but still they were not safe. Four in reply to Fleming led the charge as Wollongong kept things in range at 90-60 approaching the twenty minute mark.
The passage of time was Wollongong’s enemy though. With only nine to play with, the Fireballs’ depth, especially in the beating game, slowly redressed the balance. Newcastle just needed one more breakout to get clear and bring things home, so up stepped the unknown quantity of debutant Mitch McMahon, whose quick and powerful hat-trick relaxed the situation. Joshua Naismith’s subsequent snatch then wrapped it up, 150-60.
Newcastle – 150*: J.Mortensen 7, M.McMahon 3, M.Ingram 2 goals, J.Naismith Snitch Catch
Wollongong – 60: J.Fleming 4, E.Azib, J.Simpson goals
Game 2 – UNSW vs Macquarie
Australia’s No.1 ranked team opened their campaign against a packed but by their standards inexperienced Marauders squad. On paper it was obvious that UNSW had the squad depth to effectively cover the absence of their Global Games five. Phil Vankerkoerle and Michael Thomson were always going to stand out, but it was keeper Leigh Morrell who made the greatest early impact, skilfully defending against a number of early Marauder threats then powerfully countering.
UNSW’s starting seven remained as formidable as ever. Emily Webster was stellar in defence before running quality lines behind the hoops in support of her playmakers, while the scrummaging Nick Allan and planting Holly Shuttleworth were a perfect beating combination.
Adam Halliday was proving to be Macquarie’s standout chaser and he managed to put them on the board six minutes in. But UNSW were already thirty up and quickly drew further away.
The Marauders’ attack was far from ineffective, with Kieran Tolley on top form and matching Allan, clearing Dan Phipps an initial channel to carry the quaffle forward. But they could not break into the opposition half, thanks mainly to a curiously high defensive line held by the UNSW chasers. It was a radical strategy, especially on the occasions where keeper Morrell would push beyond halfway with his chasers, but it was smart and it was effective. With Phipps unable to break through, his brilliant burrowers up forward were not sufficiently in play.
UNSW meanwhile pounced again and again, their textbook counter-attacks putting the game well and truly to bed. By the catch of the snitch, the Snapes were over a hundred clear, but Daniel Commander at least brought thirty points back for the Marauders with his capture.
UNSW – 120: M.Thomson 5, L.Morrell 4, P.Vankerkoerle 2, A.Tembe goals
Macquarie – 40*: A.Halliday goal, D.Commander Snitch Catch
Game 3 – Newcastle vs Victory Belles
The tournament’s wildcard opened their campaign against the hosts. The Victory Belles unified some best bits of UWS and Sydney, topped off by Victorian icing. But there was never going to be anything sweet and fancy about this game. The Victory Belles brought the most decorated beater lineup in the competition, while Newcastle’s chaser-based defensive structure can be impenetrable at its best.
The scoring was opened by Daniel Ormshaw, who burst clear from his own keeper zone with no beaters home. Marcus Bradtke equalised for Newcastle, in the middle of a sustained stint of intense pressure which Bradtke was front and centre in applying. The rising star was the most damaging chaser of the game through its early exchanges, yet still the score remained 10-10 after ten minutes.
The Newcastle chasers were overpowering their rivals, but it was the emphatic beating supremacy of Christian Barquin, Stephen Butler and Lachlan Chisholm which was defining proceedings.
Ormshaw scored once again to restore the Victory Belles lead, but they were caught on the hop by Mortensen who retaliated before they could retreat and restored the equilibrium. Newcastle then took their first lead through Matt Ingram, but there was far worse news to be had for Newcastle’s tournament, as Ingram went down in the process, damaging a knee and ruling him out for the rest of the weekend.
After the long stoppage, Ormshaw quickly completed his hat-trick and it was 30-30, only for Mortensen to counter-attack Newcastle’s way back into the lead once more. But snitch decisiveness was inevitable for this match and it was Christian Barquin who won that contest, handing his team a huge win and the tournament’s first tangible upset.
Victory Belles – 60*: D.Ormshaw 3 goals, C.Barquin Snitch Catch
Newcastle – 40: J.Mortensen 2, M.Bradtke, M.Ingram goals
Game 4 – UNSW vs Wollongong
UNSW’s opening win blew away any doubts over their title credentials, so they were always going to be a difficult task for Wollongong. But the battle was uphill enough without the relative incapacitation of Hannah Davidson, who suffered an arm injury against Newcastle. Morgan Legg filled the void ably in her goal line bludger defence, mirroring the steadfast and pinpoint Holly Shuttleworth who swept up at the other end with her one bludger. This left the powerhouse that is Nick Allan to take possession of the third bludger in centre-field and engage in supreme combat against Aman Nalli’s off the ball brilliance.
Meanwhile, a quaffle contest was still happening. The Warriors’ beaters were doing just about enough to neutralise their contest, but unfortunately you need more than neutral against UNSW, who simply controlled proceedings through their chasers instead.
Once again the spoils were shared, with Vankerkoerle, Morrell and Thomson each formidable individually and nearly unstoppable working together. With such quality but equal firepower across the board, it was the intelligence and structure of UNSW’s play that stood out, as their unusual lack of reliance on any smaller set of lead stars gave way to a smarter patient game.
By the ten minute mark, the trio had shared nine goals between them and the game was essentially over. However there was still time for Wollongong to fight and this they did with considerable aplomb.
It was a game of two distinct halves, with the Warriors falling back in defence and beginning to more than hold their own. UNSW’s chaser runs were still penetrative, but they could not get through and make the final killer blow.
Jacob Fleming put Wollongong deservedly on the board, while goals from Matthew Yuen and Emily Webster took the lead back beyond 100. The final fifteen minutes yielded only three Snape goals though, a defensive effort from the unmoved Warriors that any team would do well to match. 150-10 was not a margin they deserved, but thanks to Chris Rock’s snitch catch, it’s what they got.
UNSW – 150*: L.Morrell 5, M.Thomson 3, P.Vankerkoerle 2, M.Yuen, E.Webster goals, C.Rock Snitch Catch
Wollongong – 10: J.Fleming goal
Game 5 – Macquarie vs Victory Belles
Following their respective first up performances, the Victory Belles were justifiable favourites against Macquarie and would only get better, as they grew in confidence and coherence. The Marauders’ great strength is always their depth, which they expressed by shuffling around their starting line-up. The twin threats of Amber Williams and Allison Hore sat up forward, but they were fed with particular effectiveness thanks to the smart and increasingly dominant physicality of keeper Scott Palmer being brought forward to start. Maria Wizbicki was also brought on to start alongside Kieran Tolley, continuing her recent shift towards regular beating.
It was the beaters who provided the greatest early entertainment. It was a low scoring match, with the chaser game progressing slowly and cagily, under the threatening eye of all the class beaters in play. Kieran Tolley and Christian Barquin’s personal clash was immense, as it so often is. But worries over Tolley’s apparent lack of support were put to bed thanks to the quality in depth shown by Wizbicki, Morgan Thorndyke and the improving and effective defender Helen Glover.
The standout chaser of the match was proving to be Victory Belle keeper Liam O’Callaghan, whose hat-trick slowly ground his team out to a 30-10 lead. Macquarie’s new breed of chasers, most notably Andrew Emmerson and Kieran Richards, were brilliantly agile in short bursts, nimbly finding their way into space. But Adam Halliday and Dan Phipps once again were the most powerful penetrators, scoring both of Macquarie’s goals as they kept in range.
Belinda Toohey and Kathryn Cooper worked hard in centre-field and got themselves into perfect forward positions to support O’Callaghan and Daniel Ormshaw’s frenetic attacks. Meredith Apps continued the good work on her competitive debut and was rewarded with a quality finish which reinforced the Victory Belle lead, but they were not yet out of snitch range. Christian Barquin therefore took it upon himself yet again, nabbing the catch and confirming victory.
Victory Belles – 70*: L.O’Callaghan 3, M.Apps goals, C.Barquin Snitch Catch
Macquarie – 20: A.Halliday, D.Phipps goals
Game 6 – UNSW vs Newcastle
The players paused following the first five matches, ostensibly for lunch. But with the Snapes and Fireballs scheduled to meet next, you would be forgiven for thinking games stopped just to build the tension before this ultimate of not-quite-grudge matches.
After a less than convincing morning, Newcastle needed to find another gear to push UNSW. But it was no surprise that they easily found one, taking an early 20-10 advantage through a pair of goals to keeper Mortensen. Joel Murphy was pushed up front to start for the first time, alongside and in front of the more defensive Jordan Hunt in what has fast become the Fireballs’ new standout combination. But it was the chasers and keeper doing the real defending, as has become Newcastle’s game. UNSW’s destructive threesome continued their punching forward, but they could just not get through and for ten minutes the score did not move.
The match slowed in pace and increased in scrappy intensity as it progressed. A quick pair of yellows to the rapidly acclimatising beater Ben Keough and the even more meteoric chaser Mitch McMahon were blows to the Fireball attack, but still their defence held firm.
After fifteen minutes, Vankerkoerle finally scored his team’s and his own second goal, then completed his hat-trick quickly afterwards. When Leigh Morrell made it 40-20, it was clear the momentum was shifting. Nick Allan and Holly Shuttleworth were the true catalysts for this, taking total control of the beater game.
UNSW were threatening to pull clear but by now the snitch was back. Chris Rock vs Joshua Naismith was inevitably a titanic but also ferocious encounter, with Naismiths’s pure speed countered by Rock’s brilliant bullying of the snitch. It was Rock who made the decisive catch and so the better team, albeit narrowly, deservedly won.
UNSW – 70*: P.Vankerkoerle 3, L.Morrell goals, C.Rock Snitch Catch
Newcastle – 20: J.Mortensen 2 goals
Game 7 – Macquarie vs Wollongong
After two morning losses each, this match marked the one big chance of a Saturday win for the Marauders and Warriors. Adam Halliday won the quaffle at brooms up and with no beaters yet home and no-one able to stop his sheer size and speed, it was duly 10-0 to Macquarie after just a few seconds.
That was pretty much that as far as goals were concerned though, as the match proceeded towards a state of total stalemate. Jacob Fleming’s eventual equaliser was cancelled out soon after by a Kieran Richards strike, then nothing for ten further minutes.
Both teams either matched or mirrored each other for physical and tactical strength. The Marauders made all the running with the quaffle, but the Warriors’ defence was an equal force in opposition. Both teams employed firmly planting beaters, as Thorndyke and Glover matched Davidson and Legg from faraway. Kieran Tolley and Aman Nalli were left forward to annoy each other with equally raucous aplomb.
The end result of this collection of impasses was a very open centre-field, through which Macquarie generally brought possession, coming slowly and patiently forward as they always do. Wollongong would then stop them at the goal face and pounce quickly on the counter, only for Macquarie’s beaters to stop them in turn.
Adam Halliday scored another to put Macquarie 30-10 up. Ultimately, Halliday was the only real difference between the two teams. He scored two, which was the Marauders’ lead by snitch time. Even fatigue and depth could not split the two teams, which was a remarkable effort for Wollongong considering their nine was barely half the size of the Marauder squad.
Given the state of the game, it was curious that Daniel Commander was not pursuing the snitch when it came down to it. Instead, the total mystery factor of Leslie Fox was employed for the purpose. But there was a vague buzz surrounding Commander’s potential protégé, which was vindicated right when it mattered. Fox beat the always difficult Ezekiel Azib to the snitch catch and took Macquarie home to victory.
Macquarie – 60*: A.Halliday 2, K.Richards goals, L.Fox Snitch Catch
Wollongong – 10: J.Fleming goal
Game 8 – UNSW vs Victory Belles
With both teams as yet undefeated, this was the top of the table clash to decide Saturday supremacy.
The Victory Belles had done just about enough to beat Macquarie and stayed in snitch range against a still building Newcastle, but UNSW was an altogether different prospect. The Phil, Leigh and Michael show continued, as they each scored in the first, second and third minutes respectively. Bianca Connell pushed forward and managed the Victory-Belles’ first reply, but 30-10 was an emphatic early statement after just four minutes.
Once the initial flood had passed through, the game tightened. Four goals in the first four minutes were followed by none in the next eight as the Victory Belles stood firm against raid after raid from the UNSW chasers.
As time passed, the Victory Belles began to look increasingly competitive thanks to their beater depth. Barquin and Butler’s quality is known but the level did not drop in the long term thanks to Lachlan Chisholm and Emma Morris’ added work. Chisholm was somewhat of a revelation, given he is usually employed by the Unspeakables as a chaser. But having brought a whole set of experienced and consistent chasers for this weekend, it was beaters which Sydney were short of providing, so Chisholm stepped up to a role he clearly has trained extensively for. Morris smartly dulled the impact of UNSW’s most gamechanging beater Nick Allan, frustrating him particularly with her close range catching prowess.
Shortly before the snitch return, UNSW at long last added a fourth and were beginning to reassert their ascendancy. But overtime was still there to be had if the Victory Belles could somehow overcome Chris Rock. Sadly though, that was a near impossible task on this particular weekend and Rock’s catch sealed a solid 70-10 win for the Snapes On A Plane.
UNSW – 70*: P.Vankerkoerle 2, L.Morrell, M.Thomson goals, C.Rock Snitch Catch
Victory Belles – 10: B.Connell goal
Game 9 – Newcastle vs Macquarie
There was clear work to do for both the Fireballs and Marauders, after just one win from three matches each. This last Saturday match for both was crucial, with third place the prize. Defeat for either would consign them to a Sunday morning knockout match with Wollongong and a sudden death run to glory.
Unsurprisingly, goals were hard to come by in this match too. Newcastle were controlling the play. The Marauders just did not have the firepower to get through the immense quaffle defence of the Fireballs, but Newcastle were not able to pounce easily in reply thanks to Macquarie’s beaters and the wall that was Dan Phipps.
The first ten minutes were a bizarre sight to behold, with both teams visibly keeping their cards close to their chest and their aces in the pocket. The Fireballs withheld their most experienced beaters, with Joel Murphy kept on ice to have a later impact when Kieran Tolley needed a rest or fatigued on field without one. But the Marauders outsmarted Newcastle, holding Tolley back.
It took five minutes for James Mortensen to finally open the scoring, with Adam Halliday quickly equalising. Little else followed for either team as stalemate reigned, but the Fireballs greater size slowly ground the Marauders down. Mortensen managed the first four goals by himself, with only one counter-strike from Phipps. Desany Phanoraj’s first goal of the tournament took Newcastle’s lead to thirty and briefly it went beyond but again Macquarie rallied, keeping it in range at 60-30.
If anything, chaser momentum was now with the Marauders, whose courage somehow kept them in a game Newcastle looked for all money like they should be winning easily. The Fireballs had finally unleashed all their beating aces though. Murphy and Ben Keough muscled control out of Marauding chaser hands, while also expertly isolating Joshua Naismith with the snitch. The Newcastle captain duly did his job and safely guided his team home 90-30.
Newcastle – 90*: J.Mortensen 5, D.Phanoraj goal, J.Naismith Snitch Catch
Macquarie – 30: A.Halliday, D.Phipps, A.Emmerson goals
Game 10 – Victory Belles vs Wollongong
Saturday came to a somewhat leisurely conclusion with a meandering match between the Victory Belles and Wollongong. Final positions on the ladder could not be altered regardless of this result, but the Warriors had a lot to play for. They looked to come out of the day with a win they would richly deserve, if only as reward for how efficiently they had utilised their limited resources to maximum effect.
The Victory Belles’ expected beater supremacy was not quite there early given their leisurely approach to the match, but Liam O’Callaghan was the standout chaser in play. Wollongong defended well but did not have the power of O’Callaghan or Ormshaw who drew their team away to a 30-10 lead. It was Christian Barquin who scored next though, having a rare turn with quaffle in hand.
If there was any doubt that the Victory Belles were saving their bacon to an extent, it was confirmed when Barquin’s effort was followed up by the absurd concept of a goal to Stephen Butler.
To his credit, Butler was penetrative in his lines and both he and Barquin managed second goals, taking the margin to sixty. It was surprising to see Wollongong falling away given their own beater quality should have been more than enough to control a game without Butler and Barquin present. But Chisholm and Morris were just too good again, effectively neutralising proceedings and opening space for their chasers.
Again, the Warriors belied their squad size with a quality late rally, narrowing the Victory Belle lead to 70-30 through Ezekiel Azib, who completed a spectacular hat-track, celebrated effusively then promptly went down injured. The Victory Belles were never in danger though, Butler completing his quality match by moving into seeker and making the catch.
Victory Belles – 100*: L.O’Callaghan 2, C.Barquin 2, S.Butler 2, D.Ormshaw goals, S.Butler Snitch Catch
Wollongong – 30*: E.Azib 3 goals
|Newcastle Fireballs||150*||vs||60||Wollongong Warriors|
|University of New South Wales||120||vs||40*||Macquarie Marauders|
|Victory Belles||60*||vs||40||Newcastle Fireballs|
|University of New South Wales||150*||vs||10||Wollongong Warriors|
|Victory Belles||70*||vs||20||Macquarie Marauders|
|University of New South Wales||70*||vs||20||Newcastle Fireballs|
|Macquarie Marauders||60*||vs||10||Wollongong Warriors|
|University of New South Wales||70*||vs||10||Victory Belles|
|Newcastle Fireballs||90*||vs||30||Macquarie Marauders|
|Victory Belles||100*||vs||30||Wollongong Warriors|
|1||University of New South Wales||4||4||0||410||80||+310||3||12|
Qualifying Final – Victory Belles vs Newcastle
Sunday saw all five teams return to fight for glory through the iconic top five playoffs system made famous within Australian Rugby League competition of past decades. First up, the surprise second placed finishers from Saturday played the underperforming hosts.
When they met 24 hours earlier, the Victory Belles snuck a snitch catch win in a low-scoring thriller. But Newcastle looked the vaguely better team and were clearly not yet at their best, so it would be a bigger ask to overcome them this time. Recognising the need to do something different and spurred on by the relative success of the experiment against Wollongong, Victory Belles captain Christian Barquin once again threw himself and his erstwhile beating partner Stephen Butler on to start as chasers. It was an astonishing move which reaped initial benefit when Barquin opened the scoring. The beater game was even enough early on to further justify the decision, but unfortunately, the chaser game was not such a close run thing.
James Mortensen equalised shortly after Barquin’s strike, before Liam Dawson, back to his best after a disruptive Saturday plagued by injury scares and ball-handling issues, dexterously broke clear to hand Newcastle the lead.
The Fireballs had too much strength in defence and too much speed in attack, with Phanoraj breaking clear from the back and building unstoppable momentum which allowed her to step and turn her way to a third Fireball goal.
Mortensen remained the defensive talisman, but Newcastle had so much more to offer in attack than they’d previously shown. Mitch McMahon made it four different goal-scorers out of four when he got on the end of yet another slick chaser drive.
Daniel Ormshaw and Bianca Connell kept it close with replies of their own and Nicola Gertler looked likely with a series of strong and frenetic forward charges. But Newcastle’s supreme back trio of Mortensen, Phanoraj and Marcus Bradtke held firm and did not let the Victory Belles through again. Simple counter-attack drives led to a goal each for all three and a comfortable looking lead for the Fireballs, which super-sub Ryan Hanwright made sure of with two bustling charges to goal of his own.
At 90-30, Newcastle were home and set up another mighty UNSW showdown, but captain Naismith got himself into the required zone for snitch hunting he would doubtlessly need for later with a quality catch.
Newcastle – 120*: J.Mortensen 2, D.Phanoraj 2, R.Hanwright 2, L.Dawson, M.McMahon, M.Bradtke goals, J.Naismith Snitch Catch
Victory Belles – 30: C.Barquin, D.Ormshaw, B.Connell goals
Elimination Final – Macquarie vs Wollongong
Macquarie and Wollongong’s second clash for the weekend would see one become the first team to drop out of the tournament. Their first encounter had been slow and beater dominated. For this second match, Wollongong’s nine had become an even more impossible eight with the loss of Brandon Heldt. Macquarie’s big out was star seeker Daniel Commander. But Heldt’s absence was structurally covered by the combined defensive pressure of Jacob Fleming and Huw Tomlinson, while Saturday showed they knew how to manage limited resources. Macquarie in turn had Leslie Fox to do the job for them, so the status quo had no reason to shift.
Inevitably then, this repeat match proceeded largely as the first had. Kieran Tolley and Aman Nalli dominated proceedings, with the combative Maria Wizbicki also getting forward and creating problems for Nalli. Davidson, Legg, Thorndyke and Glover’s combined defensive solidarity made scoring largely impossible again, with only Halliday breaking through in the first five minutes.
Macquarie’s attack took its familiar form, but with Allison Hore and Amber Williams both at the top of their game, it began to display a greater cutting edge as time passed. Williams’ lively runs opened space for Hore, who used her trademark perfect protection of quaffle possession to fight her way clear of defence and double the Macquarie lead.
It was in defence where the Marauders looked more dynamic and different though, pushing heavily forward beyond halfway. Again, Allison Hore stood out, utilising her forward attack position to put pressure on the Wollongong counter as it came out of zone. Her timely dispossession of the defensively brilliant Tomlinson just as he looked set to break clear on the counter further frustrated the scoreless Warriors.
As so often happens, Fleming had the class and guile to finally get clear and score Wollongong’s only goal of the match. Relief chaser Nick Burton then used his power well to add a Marauder third, but the returned snitch was to decide everything. It was all over in seconds though, with Fleming unable to muster a meaningful challenge thanks to an amazing no-fuss grab from Leslie Fox. Fox belied the tradition of diving dramatics with an enormously efficient standing snatch to seal victory by the repeat margin of 60-10.
Macquarie – 60*: A.Halliday, A.Hore, N.Burton goals, L.Fox Snitch Catch
Wollongong – 10: J.Fleming goal
Major Semi Final – UNSW vs Newcastle
After their undefeated Saturday afforded them a Sunday morning sleep-in, UNSW lined up for the first time against a slowly gelling Newcastle outfit who were much improved in their first up win over the Victory Belles win. A win here would book one team into the first Grand Final spot, while sending the other to a Preliminary Final encounter against either the Victory Belles or Macquarie, either of whom both would feel confident of beating.
So with not a lot to lose, it was time to go all out. To combat the speed and strength of the UNSW chasers Newcastle went for sheer size, starting Mortensen, McMahon and Hanwright alongside the more diminutive but no less defensively resolute Desany Phanoraj. The strategy paid off handsomely and immediately, with two goals on the board inside the first minute, then a third shortly afterwards when McMahon busted robustly through the Snapes’ left side defence.
Newcastle were dominating the chaser game early but some powerful work by Nick Allan up forward bought his chasers some space and Leigh Morrell quickly added two goals in a matter of seconds. Hanwright replied in turn, but momentum was with UNSW now as captain Michael Thomson then Morrell again leveled the scores at 40-40.
This second time of asking was turning into the blue riband match of the tournament that Saturday had promised to be but failed to deliver on. Phil Vankerkoerle briefly handed UNSW their first lead, before Hanwright scored again, finishing brilliantly on brooms up after a perfect setup from Kathleen Kerr, yet another rookie rising to the occasion with a best performance yet when it mattered.
With UNSW’s beaters needing relief, the safe hands of Chiani Sharma gamely kept up the fight. But the Fireball beater game was finally ticking at its best. Murphy and Keough dominated with their third bludger retrieval and merciless execution and Jordan Hunt and Amy Ey cleaned up any UNSW raid. The late lack of Nick Allan to control bludger possession further tipped the scales towards Newcastle, but it meant his power as a chaser could be utilised and he once again returned UNSW to the lead.
At 60-50 beyond the twenty minute mark, a decisive snitch catch looked inevitable. With both sets of beaters increasingly distracted, McMahon completed his impressive hat-trick, followed quickly by a lead-protecting reply from Morrell. But then Josh Naismith popped suddenly out of the bushes, arms aloft in triumph at an off-field snitch catch which dramatically won the game for the delirious hosts.
Newcastle – 90*: M.McMahon 3, R.Hanwright 2, J.Mortensen goals, J.Naismith Snitch Catch
UNSW – 70: L.Morrell 4, M.Thomson, P.Vankerkoerle, N.Allan goals
Minor Semi Final – Victory Belles vs Macquarie
UNSW now awaited either the Victory Belles or Macquarie, who ended the morning session with their sudden death showdown. Saturday form suggested the Victory Belles should be favourites and Liam O’Callaghan showed why, again dominating the early exchanges of a match. An Adam Halliday reply kept Macquarie in range, as did their solid beater defence, but the Victory Belles had the superior chaser movement, impressively so given their inexperience playing together as a single team.
Goals to Bianca Connell and Daniel Ormshaw before the ten minute mark established further control, before O’Callaghan completed his hat-trick and put the Marauders forty points down.
Thanks no doubt to the influence of their captain Barquin, the Victory Belles approached their play with a tactical process that can best be described as ‘YOLO’. The freedom bred quality, with frenetic and penetrative attack, but it also bred some confused defence which let Macquarie in. The increasingly slick Marauders looked their most threatening yet all weekend, but only some faulty finishing and desperate scrambling defence from Ormshaw kept them to just one more surging Halliday score.
At 50-20, the weekend’s longest stoppage in play came after Maria Wizbicki took a blow to the head. It was bad news for both teams. The Marauders were of course concerned for the health of their fallen inspiration, while the stoppage scuppered the momentum that the Victory Belles had wrested back. Ajantha Abey, who was arguably underused throughout Saturday, finally got an extended chance and made a series of brilliant runs that deserved but did not quite result in a goal.
On brooms up, Halliday quickly burst through again and completed his hat-trick, narrowing the Victory Belle lead to twenty and opening a window for his seeker. Leslie Fox was arguably the revelation of the weekend and he was magnificent again, pouncing with ferocity but pristine balance and completing a sensational come from behind win.
Macquarie – 60*: A.Halliday 3 goals, L.Fox Snitch Catch
Victory Belles – 50: L.O’Callaghan 3, B.Connell, D.Ormshaw goals
Preliminary Final – UNSW vs Macquarie
The hosts awaited in the decider, ready to meet either the Snapes or the Marauders. Phil Vankerkoerle scored upon brooms up, but Macquarie were subsequently tight at the back, pressuring Thomson and Morrell well and holding UNSW out. But there was quality all over the park, with Matthew Yuen and Emily Webster simply doing the scoring instead.
The Marauders fought hard, with Scott Palmer in particular monstering all comers on offence and defence, while captain Laura Bailey led from the front, literally and figuratively. A couple of early yellows (especially a tough call on Allison Hore, whose pugnacious defence finally backfired) did not help their cause, nor did the absence of the injured Wizbicki. A quick pair of strikes to the ever-dominating Leigh Morrell made it 50-0 and UNSW throttled back, knowing there were bigger fish to come.
Thomson and Vankerkoerle continued to notch up the odd score, while Ashwin Tembe powered his way belligerently to goal then promptly celebrated by getting a behind yellow of his own.
Macquarie’s defence remained resolutely gallant, but their UNSW counterparts had the total measure of this Marauder attack, again pushing high and cutting them off completely
Twenty minutes came and went and UNSW were safe at 90-0, but Chris Rock was once again unstoppable, topping the previously undefeated Leslie Fox to complete a total emphatic display.
UNSW – 120*: P.Vankerkoerle 3, L.Morrell 2, M.Yuen, E.Webster, M.Thomson, A.Tembe goals, C.Rock Snitch Catch
Macquarie – 0
Grand Final – Newcastle vs UNSW
It may have felt slightly inevitable, but the decider between UNSW and Newcastle was still an epic prospect to behold. These teams had faced twice already, splitting both contests, with the second ramping well up on the quality of the first. This then was the final that was long expected, this rivalry matches any in the country, their May Triwizard match was of supreme quality and consummate controversy, and it had been a long eighteen months since they last faced off in a major championship final.
The Fireballs had been brilliant through Sunday, finally connecting all the growing elements of their new wave game and nearing perfection. UNSW are never far from perfect and hadn’t been all weekend, but they would still need more this time.
Just as they had in the Major Semi, the hosts and perhaps narrow favourites scored first. Mortensen’s third minute goal was the only for a long time, with both team’s superlative defences looking impenetrable. Nick Allan and Joel Murphy were brilliant, annihilating each other while Jordan Hunt and Holly Shuttleworth annihilated chasers.
UNSW made more regular quaffle attacks, but even without Marcus Bradtke who had been injured in their last face-off, Newcastle were utterly unmoved at the back. Little was different at the other end either. Defensive colossus though he may be, even Mortensen could somehow not break through the decidedly smaller Morrell.
The game changed when first Desany Phanoraj was forced off with injury, then Nick Allan was sent to chase. His quick brace handed the Snapes the lead, but still Newcastle could not stop his charges from deep beyond halfway. A brilliant solo run completed his hat-trick, before Morrell made it 40-10 as the frazzled Fireballs threatened to fall away.
A surprising but steadfast cameo from Tom Russell in goal kept Newcastle hanging on tenuously, before he helped set up Mitch McMahon for yet another of his massive finishes. Mortensen and Phanoraj then returned fresh and reinvograted and the team raised to another level with them. Soon it was 40-40 and Newcastle were taking control. But the snitch was back and would decide the awarding of the trophy.
It took just seconds for Joshua Naismith to pounce on the shocked and frustrated snitch, who was ruled down, controversially and as later evidence showed, probably incorrectly. It was an impossible call for the officials though, given its tightness and lack of proximity to any one referee. Play continued, UNSW’s beaters controlled an already devastated Naismith effectively for the rest of the match, then Chris Rock finished it off. Given his work all weekend it was apt that UNSW’s seeker would seal them their first Midwinter Cup title.
UNSW – 70*: N.Allan 3, L.Morrell goals, C.Rock Snitch Catch
Newcastle – 40: J.Mortensen 3, M.McMahon goals
It was cruel luck for Newcastle even beyond the misfortune of the fifty-fifty call going against them. They were arguably the best unit on Sunday and had all the momentum in the match to continue running over the Snapes. But nothing can be taken away from the efforts of UNSW, who were the most consistently strong side over the whole weekend and were the marginally better team for the balance of the final. Stand-in captain Michael Thomson carved out the legacy he’s long threatened to build, lifting a major trophy. But it was Raj Kapoor’s replacement as keeper who made the biggest impact, with Leigh Morrell topping the goal count for UNSW against the quality of Thomson and Vankerkoerle and despite spending most of his time saving goal after goal at the back. It was a stellar breakout performance Morrell had shown clear signs of developing towards through early 2014 and he was a deserving player of the tournament.