Beware of the wounded Eel

Down but not out – Eels coach Grant Sundborn. Photo: John Borren.

It’s hard for a rugby league coach to be sideline watching your team take a shellacking.

Ask Eels coach Grant Sundborn, 46-zip last weekend against Taniwharau… ouch! 

And in a game the Eels thought they could win and give themselves a cosy direct entry to the grand final of the Waikato competition. “No-one wants to hear the excuses,” says Grant. “But we just didn’t show up last weekend.”

They have one last chance to make the finals but it will be more a measure of coach Sundborn and his bruised Otumoetai Eels outfit whether they can put that disappointment aside, re-gather, re-focus.

They must win the play-off against Hamilton’s College Old Boys this weekend. It’s one last blast at OK Coral, (Resthills Reserve), if they are to make the grand final – a return outing against Huntly’s unbeaten Taniwharau the following weekend. Lose this weekend and the Eels are gone for the season.

Mitchell Park resembled a triage unit at practise this week – a snapped tendon in a hand, a blown knee, a shoulder and a quad.

“With all those injuries we are scratching just to pull together a fit, competitive unit. But we won’t use that as an excuse.”

And he’s been magnanimous to Taniwharau – “Beautiful football they were playing. Magnificent to watch.” But that was last week.

“We drew 24-all with College Old Boys during the round robin,” says Grant. But a draw won’t cut it this week. “We’re scratching a bit with all those injuries but we will turn up this weekend and we will give it a good shot.”

He says the mood was glum when they returned from Resthills last Saturday. They skulked off into one guy’s shed when they got home, had a few beers and by night’s end they had moved on. “I told them we were still in this, we’re one game away form a grand final.”

And at training Tuesday night they had a meeting of the leadership group first where they pinpointed where they had lost “Defence obviously,” laughs the coach. “Then we let them up too quick to play the ball, and our markers in the ruck were moving away too quickly allowing Taniwharau to flick the ball back inside exposing us around the back of the ruck.” After the postmortem, the team moved onto a solid and encouraging workout.

Sundborn and the Eels have done their best to rectify those shortcomings. That’s all they can do. “That’s sport,” says Grant with the ghost of lost opportunity still lurking. “It’s a bit hard to swallow, but we will return.” And with a vengeance hopefully, at Resthills Reserve this weekend.