New York Athletic Club overcame the stiff challenge of Old Puget Sound Beach in Seattle to claim the 2012 Rugby Super League Championship.
It was NYAC’s second title in three years, and the fourth in eight years in the Rugby Super League to cement the team’s position as one of the premier teams in the country over the last decade.
Some early showers gave way to a mostly dry and overcast day. A steady breeze was blowing diagonally across the field, slightly favoring OPSB in the first half. NYAC got off to a bright start, pounding the ball downfield effectively, gaining a large chunk of ground through some nice work in the NYAC centers. After a quickly taken penalty by scrumhalf Mie Petri, Steve Evans made a half break and reached for the try line for the first score of the game. Evans converted his own try for a 7-0 lead, three minutes in. At this point NYAC had already suffered the loss of USA Eagles pool player Toby L’Estrange to a suspected broken arm.
NYAC retained the ball for the first five minutes of the game before conceding a penalty, allowing OPSB to get their hands on the ball for the first time. Another penalty allowed OPSB’s Matt Trouville to find touch deep into the NYAC 22. OPSB did not convert that opportunity, but minutes later following a similar lineout, Emosi Vucago slipped through from close range. Russell Armstrong’s conversion tied the score at 7-7.
Minutes later, a kick through allowed Miles Craigwell to pressure the NYAC cover defense, and as OPSB swarmed forward, Alipate Tuiveluka worked his way over, the try awarded after the referee consulted with his assistant referee. Armstrong converted again for a 14-7 OPSB lead. OPSB was responding to and meeting the early physical challenge thrown down by NYAC at this point.
NYAC responded quickly, again pounding away with the forwards after taking advantage of an OPSB knock on in mind field. This time it was scrumhalf Mike Petri working his way over from close range, and the conversion tied the game. Just past the half hour mark in the first half, Alan MacGinty chipped over a close range penalty for a 17-14 lead.
Soon after, Russell Armstrong added a penalty for OPSB to tie it back up again.
With time on the clock winding down, Rob Johnson scored in the corner for NYAC, again after several phases of short yardage action. The conversion was off the mark and the fast moving first half ended with the NYAC leading 22-17.
An early second-half penalty for Beach didn’t find touch against the wind, and the kick was returned by NYAC all the way to the OPSB line.
NYAC were awarded the attacking 5-meter scrum, but in an impressive show of force, OPSB blew the NYAC scrum backwards and cleared the danger.
OPSB were to repeatedly put pressure on the NYAC scrum throughout the day, despite OPSB missing their usual tight-head prop, Oliver Kilifi, to a family bereavement.
OPSB lost influential center Alipate Tuiveluka to an injury at this point, but fullback Mike Palefau tied up the game with a long winding run , returning a NYAC clearance kick 70 meters to fire up the crowd.
NYAC quickly pressured the OPSB half, and AJ MacGinty kicks three points to put NYAC back in the lead by 25-22.
The game pattern continued, with NYAC forwards gaining yards repeatedly, but OPSB capable of striking from anywhere, if given the opportunity. NYAC’s Mike Petri was yellow carded for hands in the ruck, giving OPSB a numerical advantage. A good period for OPSB followed, the team retaining possession and taking the game to NYAC.
NYAC pushed back, but winger Filimoni Botitu returned a kick from his goal-line to the NYAC 22, but the defense holds and NYAC clears the danger.
Parity is restored with Nick Hawkins of OPSB player yellow carded, and NYAC use wind to gain territory and an attacking lineout. Several times NYAC forwards battered against the stout defensive line, and eventually a try is awarded, Conor Coyne emerging from the pile with the ball. The conversion puts NYAC up 32-22, with less than ten minutes to play.
From the restart, NYAC again playing a controlled game, playing keep-away. Five minutes left. NYAC again crashed over the OPSB line, but the ball was held up. Attacking 5m scrum, and time was starting to work against OPSB. But after good work by Miles Craigwell, Filimoni Botitu sets off on a long run down the left sideline to score under the posts. This brought the game back within reach as the referee indicated three minutes remained. But the big comeback hoped for by the local crowd fell just a bit short, as NYAC holds on for the 32-29 win.
Game MVP was NYAC flanker Lou Stanfill. “It hurts so good!” said Stanfill after the game. “We knew they weren’t going to stop, every time they got the ball in their hands they were dangerous. It was a matter of us reorganizing and making sure we didn’t have any gaps in our defense, and if we did it certainly showed and they capitalized on it….we told ourselves we were to come out here and play a hard game, keep moving forward, keep the ball in hand and don’t give it back because as soon as you give it to them they were mighty dangerous.”
“it was a really good contest," added NYAC captain and scrumhalf Mike Petri. "Puget Sound played really well, as we knew they would. It’s been a long season, but I’m really proud of the guys, finishing 10-0 and ending on a high note….we relied on the forwards all season, our backs have done a good job but we have some great leadership up front and they have done it all season.”
“NYAC played to their strength, and they were very effective at it," observed OPSB Head Coach Evan Haigh. "They are a great side, and they did a good job of controlling our assets. It was a great season, and to lose only one game, and that by three points is a huge season for us.
"We knew (the pick and go) was coming and they were very good at it and full credit to be able to do that for 80 minutes. They played to their strengths in controlling possession and it was very effective and that was the difference between the two sides. There were a lot of people out there supporting us today and it was great to be able to showcase this to the city, and I want to thank my guys for a wonderful season."
NYAC Coach Bruce McLane said the game plan was dictated by the circumstances “there was no way we could give them opportunity with good ball…we couldn’t stop then – I don’t think anyone could have stopped them - they are such a talented team. We played about as well as we were capable of playing and at the end we hung on by the skin of our teeth….and congratulations to Old Puget Sound, it was about as big a game as you could possibly play, no one deserved to lose this one.”
NYAC claims their fourth title in eight years with the win, adding to titles won in 2005, 2008 and 2010.
Tries: Evans, Petri, Johnson, Coyne
Convs: Evans 3
Pens: MacGinty 2
Tries: Vucago, Tuilevuka, Palefau, Botitu
Convs: Armstrong 3