Semi-Final Match Report: Kings vs Barker

The year was 480 BC.

Upwards of 300,000 Persians were marching through Greece, led by the bloodthirsty King Xerxes I. Their conquering of the entire Greek nation seemed a foregone conclusion. The Greeks in desperation had one more chance left to stop the marauding Persian horde- send what few troops they had left to block the pass of Thermopylae. With only 7000 men, they were outnumbered almost 50 to one. For seven heroic days the Greeks held off the Persian forces, through sheer grit and determination, before finally being annihilated on the eighth day. The Persians won, but the last stand of the Greeks at Thermopylae was forever remembered.

300

Flash forward 2493 years, and a similar situation had developed on Macquarie Uni field #2 last Saturday morning. There was no sight of King Xerxes, but the Barker troops were well-resourced and well-disciplined. Throughout the season they fought with the strength of 300,000 men, conquering all clubs in 4th grade second division with reckless abandon, amassing a vast empire of 17 wins, 13 4-try bonus points and 82 competition points. This was a fearsome fighting force. The team tasked with slowing their progress on the march to TG Milner field was KOBs, a wearisome and bedraggled line-up assembled from the statistically weakest nation in Div 2.

This was a foregone conclusion, an open and shut case. The Barker army’s march would be barely slowed, let alone stopped. Kings would do well to be merely a speed hump on their inevitable journey to the Grand Final, as the plucky band of Greeks were over 2000 years ago.

But history wasn’t going to repeat itself that fateful Saturday. The events that unfolded would dwarf those of Thermopylae, and promise to live in infamy for far longer.

Kings began the game on fire, pushing the Barker forces back into their own territory with a series of forward hitups. The Kings troops had found a weakness on the far left flank, in the form of a Barker winger who couldn’t catch, nor pass. This chink in the armour was brutally exploited, and soon the beleaguered Kings forces had their first points on the board, thanks to a try from the rampaging ginger Noodles. A great start became a bloody great start just a minute later, when the same Barker winger threw a wayward pass that was intercepted by Mark ‘the Joburg Jackhammer’ Rudman, who offloaded to Kyle James who scored beside the posts. The game had barely started and Kings were up 12-0. But if you think that was the end of the story, you need to take some time out, have a deep breath… and think again. Because this was just the first chapter in an epic tale. Harry hadn’t even got to Hogwarts yet.

Barker had a few chances on attack in the next ten minutes, but were ably withheld by the Kings defences. The Persian/Barker forces were becoming frustrated with their lack of progress, and the slow realisation was occurring that this story wasn’t going to script. Kyle James slotted a penalty from 30m and we extended our lead to 15 points. With the first half coming to a close our dominance was continuing, but in the final play the Barker forces struck with a raid down the right side, capitalising on some sloppy Kings defence. At half time the score was 15-5, and the game was on a knife edge.

The baking heat was starting to take its toll. Barker were a fitter unit, and would surely roll over the beleaguered Kingsmen in the second period. And for the first ten minutes of the half they did just that. They scored two quick breakout tries, splintering our defence out wide. A 45m penalty from Kyle James did little to stop the bleeding, and in just a few seconds the Kings lead has evapourated and the score was just 18-17.

The Barker crowd were becoming vocal, screaming Persian warcries at the top of their lungs. King Xerxes would not be disappointed. They were charging into rucks, and through our tired defences. We needed a game changer, we needed someone to step up for the team- or lie down. Enter Derek Macartney.

The diminutive South African retrieved a Barker kick, and darted through the Barker line. But at that point his footing slipped, and he fell sideways into the leading forearm of a Barker defender. He was out cold. Thankfully his consciousness quickly returned, but he could not be moved and the game stopped for 10 minutes, eventually moving to a neighbouring field to accommodate the arriving ambulance. But in these minutes the Barker momentum was halted, and we had time to regain our composure and confidence.

With ten minutes to go KOBs were up against it. The 300,000 strong Barker army was charging, and we were without our captain and talisman. At this point the team looked to the crowd- and were greeted once again by the best looking sideline in Subbies, with Lachie Girling-Butler adding more strength to this claim (and his girlfriend was pretty good-looking as well). The crop of wives, girlfriends, team-mates, ex-players, friends and family all rose as one, and found their voice to lift the flagging Kings team.

Slowly but surely we stemmed the tide of points, and regained control over the game. Against all the odds we held the ball for multiple phases, crashing it up again and again through the forwards. But the repeated phases came to nothing when an errant drop-goal from Kyle returned the ball to Barker with the clock winding down. Barker cleared, but the ball went straight to Gus Rutherford. What happened next is still burned in the minds of those who saw it.

Time slowed down. Rutherford had space, but four Barker defenders were closing in quickly. He stepped inside, and one Barker defender went cartwheeling. He stepped inside again, and put paid to another hapless Barker man. He straightened, and summoned that legendary (but rarely seen) Rutherford speed. He accelerated through a gap and veered left, heading to the corner. At that point Kyle James loomed on his outside, with a clear run to the tryline. You would have forgiven Rutherford for using that powerful step to beat the final Barker defender and take the glory himself. But that’s not the Big Red Rutherford way. He held off the final defender and offloaded to James, who scored untouched on the lefthand sideline. It was the try of the millennium.

But with that score we were only up by 6, still in range of the fired up Barker side. The sideline conversion looked impossible, with the wind blowing at least 60km/h. However James was kicking like Johnny Wilkinson, and this was his 2003 World Cup. He stepped up and calmly slotted the goal, to give us an almost unassailable lead with just minutes to play. Surely we couldn’t defeat the Persians and avenge our Greek brothers?

Barker were far from finished, and immediately were on the front foot. A wide attack was shut down by Brendon Boulos, but he picked up a yellow card in the process for a shoulder charge. Barker converted the penalty and with one minute left our lead was cut to just five points, 25-20.

We were hanging on by a thread, playing with pure heart. The heat had sapped all of our energy reserves. We fell off tackles, and battled to form a tight defensive line. The siren had sounded, but Barker continued to march. They were going to take Macquarie Pass, come hell or high water. They pushed over our halfway line, and had numbers to the left and right. But the halfback fumbled the ball at the base of the ruck. The ref blew the knock on, then blew full time.

Persia had been defeated. Kings were heading to the Grand Final.

It was a superb team effort, with each player contributing to the victory. The front row of Brendon Boulos, OC and Noodles were dominant at the set piece and in tight. Zac and Benny Boulos were combative at the breakdown, while Novak, Ravin and Dave ran hard in the loose. Derek and Kyle outplayed the lauded Barker halves, and Rudman and Macvicar were rocks in midfiled. The back three of Stoko, Kyle and Gus put in yet another stellar effort. The bench were also outstanding- Ed Love, Max Fontes, Luke Martin, Henry Collins and Charlie Crane.

Also thanks must go to the supporters and coaches (Con Noodles and Allan Lott). The water was run by the superprop, Jordan Pond, and his chubby offsider, Benn Robinson. Reuben Loughlin ran the kicking tee and was arguably the reason Kyle kicked so well.

So against all the odds Kings are the ones marching to TG Milner field. We are battle-weary and bedraggled, but we have proven to be an outstanding fighting force. This week we face an even bigger foe- the students of UNSW.

This game promises to be a truly epic encounter. It may well trump the events of last week.

This will be spoken about for generations.

Make sure you are there at 9am to witness the battle unfold.