Following their sublime performance in difficult conditions the previous weekend, the Gropers travelled to Barnard Park in Busselton for the rematch against their Dungbeetle arch-rivals with barely a cloud in sight or breath of wind.
Buoyed by their recent efforts, perhaps a touch of overconfidence was felt by the players leading up to the match.
The senior players knew that a very different prospect faced them today, and a far-from-ideal pre-game preparation was just the first sign of the harsh reality check the men from Margaret River were to receive.
With memories of their recent crushing defeat no doubt painfully fresh in their minds, the Dungbeetles had regained their formidable full-strength side, and their intent was clear from their warm-up; fired up by their vocal home crowd they intended to make amends and punish the gropers for humiliation suffered.
In what has become a wonderful annual tradition, the return of the Tongan seasonal workers helped bolster the gropers to a full squad. Our Tongan comrades play the game in great spirit, and bring a much-loved cultural contribution the playing group each year.
The Gropers greatly appreciate the contribution these enthusiastic young men provide us each year.
With so many new players, players shuffled to unfamiliar positions and coach Viv Booker on holiday working on his tan, the hasty warm-up provided precious little time to gel new combinations and run through set plays.
As such, captain Sam Henry's message to the players before kick-off was simple, do the basics right, support your team-mates and be the aggressors. Kicking off and defending to start, the Gropers had immediate opportunity to do just that.
The Dungbeetles game-plan was as simple as it was brutally effective; pound away relentlessly with their big forwards, forcing the gropers to work hard in defence. Their halfback and flyhalf played superbly behind their dominant forward pack, controlling proceedings with ruthless precision, steering the attack around and keeping play deep in gropers territory. They were happy to play this territorial strategy, content to keep the gropers pinned deep in their own end, and wait for their opposition to make mistakes. The gropers were holding on bravely in the initial stages, and neither team could open the scoring.
The defining moment of the match, however, occurred roughly 12 minutes into the first half, when gropers prop Mitch Abbs feel awkwardly in a tackle carrying the ball up, resulting in a sickening ankle injury. Surrounding players immediately recognised the gravity of the situation, and play was stopped while an ambulance was called. The presence of several doctors and nurses at the ground helped immensely in ensuring Mitch's wellbeing, and the club sincerely thanks those involved.
The delay in proceedings allowed the Gropers to regroup and regather themselves following the initial onslaught. Yet it was some time before the Ambulance arrived, and it was decided that the rest of the first half was to be abandoned. The serious injury is a cruel blow for Abbs, who has improved exponentially this season, growing to become one of our most consistent and dependable players.
As soon as play resumed, the Dungbeetles picked right up from where they left off, turning the screw even harder on the besieged Gropers. A penalty infringement by the Gropers allowed the Dungbeetles to open the scoring, in a brief respite to the hostilities. From the following restart, the Gropers forced a turnover, and had their first real attacking opportunity.
A Dungbeetles infringement gave the opportunity to level the scores, yet the kick strayed wide. The Dungbeetles slowly advanced down the field following this, and cracks began to show in the Gropers.
Halfback Tim Fearon struggled to get his team going forward amid heavy pressure at the breakdown, and Jake Algate, playing in the unfamiliar role of flyhalf, consequently lacked the time and space needed to distribute the ball to our dangerous runners in the wider channels. Handling mistakes began to creep in under the pressure, and where scrums had up until now been one of our genuine points of ascendency, they now posed dangerous turnover opportunities in the absence of rock-solid loosehead prop Abbs.
On one such scrum 10 metres from the Gropers line, the Dungbeetles pushed the Gropers off their own ball, forcing a penalty. Their wily scrumhalf took a quick tap, and darted over the tryline before the Gropers could even retreat and dotted down underneath the posts.
Shell-shocked, the Gropers barely had time to comprehend what had happened, and in no uncertain terms senior players questioned whether the Gropers were up to the fight.
Unfortunately, there was to be no respite from the grinding play of the Dungbeetles, and handling errors, lack of continuity and a stuttering set-piece best summarise the rest of the match. However, a series of penalties gifted the Gropers good field position to launch a rear-guard, and several of the Tongan players (especially 'Big John', already proving a cult hero) were called upon to make charges into the 'beetles line.
Their determination went unrewarded, as momentum was completely halted following a dubious yellow card awarded to Olly 'The Eel' Chanin after advice from a Dunsborough sideline referee.
From here, the Gropers were merely on life support until the end whistle, upon which raucous cheers erupted from the Dunsborough players and supporters, as they ran out deserved 10-0 winners in a tense and brutal affair.
Attitude and preparation were a clear point of difference between the two teams, and the Gropers now face some serious introspection about what it will take to win the premiership, with Grand Final hosting rights all but certainly with the Dungbeetles now.
Despite new and unfamiliar personnel, the pre game message of basics, support and intent was not heeded, and the Dungbeetles expertly exposed the severe shortcomings in these aspects on the day.
A focus on these aspects at training and a more grounded attitude will have the Gropers primed to finish the season strongly, building to face the Dungbeetles in the final showdown of the season in what already looks to be a massive contest.