It has been 5 years since the West Coast Enforcers have entered their own State team in the National Rugby Championships and 2014 hopes to mark the beginning of a revival of sorts for the team. The West Coast Enforcers entered the 2014 National Championships as undeniable underdogs with 3 National rookies in the squad: Robyn Lambird, Jayde Seed & Jake Howe. However, with New Zealand import Barney Koneferenisi in the squad and experienced team members, Nick Peters, Aaron Camm, Scott Joyce and Dane Kinder, the team had aspirations of taking a few states by surprise.
The Enforcers begun their 2014 campaign on Thursday 23rd October against hosts, the GIO NSW Gladiators, and had to overcome a host of logistical issues before the team had even taken to the court. When the first whistle went, the West Coast Enforcers did well to hang onto the hosts in the opening few minutes, however under the pressure of the home crowd, the NSW Gladiators started to apply the pressure putting human battering ram Ryley Batt to good use. The Enforcers were 13-9 down at the first quarter but were working hard to keep up with the experience and tactical set up of NSW. As the game wore on, the pressure from the hosts showed no sign of slowing and the game finished 60-32 to the NSW Gladiators.
The team came together in the break and had a good post-match briefing, analysing the game and where the team could have better performed. It was unanimously felt that the preparation for the game had been the team’s undoing and as the only team to play the early morning fixture every day, it was agreed that the pre-game process would need to begin much earlier.
The AAMI South Australia Sharks were next up for the Asteron West Coast Enforcers. The Sharks were a team that had been earmarked as a key fixture and the Enforcers were keen to shrug off the early morning loss. The team started brightly, focusing on the points that stand-in coach Tom Kyle had stressed during the break. After the first quarter the Asteron West Coast Enforcers led the South Australian’s 14-12 and looked good for the lead. Through the second quarter, the Sharks began to use their experience to wear the pace of the Enforcers’ young team down and were able to use the ball effectively to pull a 5 point turnaround to lead 29-26 at Half Time. As the game progressed, the Sharks were able to keep the Enforcers at arm’s length maintaining a 5 point gap throughout the second half. In the final quarter, the team’s morning efforts began to take their toil and the squad began to fatigue, growing frustrated with the Sharks’ play. However credit must go to the South Australians as they recognised the threat of the Enforcers and altered their tactics accordingly. The final score finished 56-48 to South Australia and the Enforcers were left physically drained and frustrated having let a game that they could have comfortably won, slip from their grasp.
Day 2 came around quickly at the Asteron West Coast Enforcers were focused and ready to go for their first game against the Queensland Cyclones. Again the Enforcers started brightly, buoyed on by the support of a few hundred NSW school children. Whilst the support for the team likely stemmed from the NSW-QLD rivalry, the Enforcers gladly accepted the extra support and thrived on the crowd’s cheers. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Enforcers led by 3 points and should arguably have been further ahead. The frantic pace to the first half was taking its toll on both teams, however West Coast Enforcers’ low-point rookie Jake Howe had to be hauled off by the support team as he was pushing himself blue (literally!). As the support staff somewhat recreated an ‘Ice-bucket’ challenge to cool Jake down, the team on court continued to work hard in what was developing to be the game of the tournament. With 5 minutes to go in the game, the score was 38-37 in favour of the Queenlanders and it looked to go down to the wire. The Enforcers put heavy pressure on the in-bound throws high up the court and, following a series of turnovers, the Enforcers led 45-43 with 1 minute to go. Needless to say, there weren’t any nails left intact in the stadium and as the time counted down, the Cyclones pulled two goals back to level the scores. It was left to powerful New Zealand import Barney Koneferenisi to lead the charge for the Enforcers and in the final seconds, Barney worked through a screen to cross the line to score the winning goal as the siren sounded. The crowd exploded, as did the Enforcers’ bench, and the bench rushed on to congratulate the team on an incredible performance. However despite the score being awarded on the scoreboard and the commentator leaving his post to begin his post-match duties, it was declared that Barney’s goal had come too late for the siren and was disallowed. The team had to regroup and regain their composure as the game moved into overtime for the first and only time of the tournament. The team headed back on court to try and bring home the win against a very evenly matched Queensland side. The extra-time continued to be a closely-fought affair with the score even with less than a minute to go. With 20 seconds on the clock, the referees awarded a foul against Barney who was sent to the bin and the Enforcers were 3 v 4 for the final seconds. Despite an incredible defensive display, the Cyclones found an open player who was able to kill the play and roll over the line to win the game by a point, 48-47.
The West Coast Enforcers were gutted by the loss and were left deflated. The team went into their cool down and had to recompose themselves for the next game against joint favourites Victoria. The mood in the camp was extremely low as the whole team were left physically and emotionally drained. It was therefore unsurprising that Victoria ran out clear winners 67-24. The team finished the day battered and bruised and Team Trainer Louise Jones of Drakoru Fitness was busier than ever on the physio table trying to fix a wounded team.
The final game for the Asteron West Coast Enforcers was against the New Zealand Te Waka Hou. Unfortunately the team came to the final day struggling with injuries. Nick Peters had been admitted to hospital overnight and missed the clash, Jayde was suffering with a cracked rib whilst Dane & Barney were both nursing niggles. Despite this, the team were desperate to do themselves proud and committed to leaving everything they had left, out on the court. The teams were very equal and the game was another tight affair, highlighting how far the team had come over the weekend. The team fought hard through the game, fighting from 5 points down at 3/4 time to narrowly missing out on the win by going down 42-40 at full time. Despite the team finishing winless, they showed great spirit and strength throughout the National Championships and won over a number of admirers.
The team’s standout performances for the Championships came from Jake Howe & Robyn Lambird with Robyn’s efforts being recognised and awarded ‘Best New Talent’ for the 2014 GIO Wheelchair Rugby National Championships.
The team will be taking a short break to recover, however plans have already been made to resume training in the not too distant future ahead of the 2015 season, which could start as soon as April.
The team wish to thank Yogi, Louise, Fabian & stand in coach Tom Kyle for all their hard work and support. The team has an incredible spirit and it has undoubtedly come from the spirit shown in the support team.
Here’s to DBD 2015.
Photo courtesy of: Fierce4rugby & Serena Corporate Photography
The West Coast Enforcers now have their own official Facebook page, make sure you ‘Like’ the page to stay up to date with all the team news.
2014 GIO Wheelchair Rugby National Championships “Best New Talent” – Robyn Lambird