Newcastle rugby: Captain goes headlong into battle for Greens

HEAVY TRAFFIC: Merewether fullback Jay Strachan takes on the Maitland defence at Townson Oval. Picture: Stewart Hazell
HEAVY TRAFFIC: Merewether fullback Jay Strachan takes on the Maitland defence at Townson Oval. Picture: Stewart Hazell

MICK Gill joked that Merewether captain Jay Strachan must have a magnet on his head.

The inspirational fullback was on the end of a high shot in the Greens’ 36-28 loss to Hamilton in the major semi-final – one of several this season.

In the tackle for which Hamilton winger Fiso Vasegote was cited and found not guilty, Strachan ran another 10 metres to score. The judiciary ruled that initial contact was on the ball and slipped up.

“It’s the way he runs,” Merewether co-coach Gill said. “I have never seen a bloke cop as many high tackles. It is his balance and ability to wrong foot people. They think they have him in the tackle zone and he wrong foots them at the end. He keeps balance in contact and is still able to maintain speed. He copped a high shot on the weekend and ran another 10 metres to score. He has that explosive power.”

Gill stopped short of suggesting that Strachan needed extra protection ahead of the preliminary final against Maitland at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.

“We always get penalties for the high tackles on him,” Gill said. “Whether the tackles warrant more is up to the referee to judge on the day. That’s footy. The referee will call it how he sees it.”

But there is no doubting the skipper’s importance to the Greens, highlighted by his two tries against the Hawks.

“He leads by his actions,” Gill said. “If we need a tough carry he always puts his hand up. He gets you on the front foot. For a fullback that’s unique.”

Strachan, who has been managing a knee-issue all season, was a member of the Greens side which went through undefeated in 2011 but was in the US the following season and missed the 46-0 thrashing to Hamilton in the decider.

“He hasn’t played in a grand final for seven years and knows the importance of the position we are in,” Gill said.

“He can probably see the end of his career more than he has in past years. He is definitely not taking anything for granted.”

Merewether have made one change from the loss to Hamilton. Joe Crawford comes in on the wing for Ed Clifton.

“Crawf injured his knee against Maitland out at Marcellin Park (round 14) and returned in reserve grade last week,” Gill said. “He got through 60 minutes and the knee was good. He was playing good rugby before the injury so we bought him straight in. Eddie has been great and will have a role off the bench. He can play wing, halfback and fullback and is very good on the counter attack. Crawf is bigger and faster and gives us a bit more.”

The Greens came from 15-7 down against Maitland in the qualifying final to win 31-29. They also fell behind early against Hamilton. Though proud of the way the Greens’ fought, Gill said it was not the script for Saturday.

“It’s good to be able to withstand that pressure, but you also have to apply it and keep kicking on,” he said. “We have to look at getting on the front foot and holding it for longer periods. We have spoken to Eli and Brighty about playing smarter. It falls on their shoulders as the halves. We have been playing dumb in some areas of the field.”