The selected Australian Police Rugby League representative squad to tour England in July 2013, have been in camp in Sydney for the past three days at the Randwick Army barracks. The team took on the might of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) combined rugby league team at the superb St Mary's Leagues Stadium at 4pm on Wednesday 17 April 2013.
Both sides were unsure of their oppositions strengths and weaknesses so for the opening fifteen minutes decided speed and spirited 'Big Hits' was the order of the day. There was some brilliant back line attacking moves from both sides that saw copybook tackles denying tries. It took 20 minutes before the APRL built enough momentum to score two unanswered converted tries to lead 12 points to nil at the halftime break.
In the second half the crowd became more excited when the intensity appeared to increase, despite another forty minutes of football to be played. When speaking with the ADF coach after the game, he believed it took forty minutes for his team who, as the APRL team also were, new to playing footy with each other.
THe ADF's coach's comments appeared correct when, buoyed by a 17 - 6 penalty count, the ADF continued a relentless barrage of attack on the APRL team until they too, had scored two converted tries squaring the ledger at 12 points each.
All those present in the crowd soaked up vibe and provided boisterous support. Courageous APRL defence stopped the ADF taking the lead. In particular, Mitch West, Nick Patterson, Dave Cox and Tom Bisset provided brutal defence up the middle of the rucks. APRL Captain Mick Ryan succumbed to an injury forcing him to leave the field. APRL coach Superintendent Craig Sheridan put on the more mobile Matt Johnstone and Jai Jones who both added some spark around the tiring forward pack. APRL capitalised on the fresh enthusiasm and scored another try after a well constructed set of six.
The ADF's defensive catch cry of 'Shut the Gate' was effective in nullifying the APRL' attack, and on one occasion the gate was shut too high into the head of big APRL prop Dave O'Riordon who was knocked senseless. This resulted in the gate shutter being given an early shower by referee, and ex Cronulla player Reece Williams. O'Riordon courageously pleaded to stay on the field but was replaced.
The defence force hit back soon after and the score was tied up at 16 points a piece. It appeared evident that those who were in the crowd were witnessing a special contest. Both teams made breaks and looked set to score before copybook tackles cut down the player about to score a try. Coach Sheridan sent out instructions for his players to 'hang in there' and remain patient.
Classy APRL backs James Bartholomew and former NRL great Scott Donald were scheming to find a way across the ADF tryline before Bartholomew set up a match winning try for the speedy Andrew Cridland with three minutes left to play. Bartholomew missed the conversion and the ADF raced back to kick off. After repelling the APRL and keeping them pinned in their thirty metre zone, the ADF took possession with one minute left on the clock. Sott Donald completed an excellent one on one tackle on an ADF raider and stole the football from him giving the APRL possession for the final forty seconds. The full time siren sounded and the APRL had won a seriously hard contest against their defence force brothers.
This game was a tough match for both sides. Both coaches agreed it was a much needed hit out for their respective Australian representative teams.
Those of us at the APRL sincerely thank the ADF for the chance to play each other. Both teams retired to St. Mary's Leagues club for a well deserved refreshment and post match post mortem. Tom Bisset was awarded the player of the match followed by Nick Paterson and Mitch West. The ADF are also travelling to Leeds in July to participate in the Defence Force World cup. Both teams will be making efforts to support each other in England this year.
The ADF (Navy, sky blue and red) and the APRL (black and white) in a borrowed strip, after the game. Both of these teams will represent the Australian Rugby league at their respective, Defence force and Police world cups in Leeds England in July 2013.