DARREN Jackson’s Rams channelled the Western Division style of days gone by on Saturday when posting an upset 50-12 win over Federation of Italia Rugby League Australia at Carrington Park.
The convincing win was built around a big but mobile forward pack which made good yards in attack and hit hard in defence.
It was in stark contrast to the 2016 meeting between the pair when the slick FIRLA backs stole the show, with this year’s edition featuring doubles to Rams forwards Chris Bamford and Blake Seager.
Orange CYMS prop Bamford was named the Rams’ best on ground, but fellow front rower and skipper Brent Seager, his brother Blake and late call up Tui Oloapu were just as impressive.
“They [forwards] did do the job and that was something we spoke about too – trying to do the little things right and play it down the middle. We played in the old Western Division style and it went well,” Jackson said.
“Defence was the other thing we spoke about, just keeping tight down the middle and if they want to go around us, let them go. It doesn’t always work out like that, but it was good it did today.”
Given the Azzuri line-up included three players in the Italians’ extended World Cup squad and that FIRLA had won last year’s fixture 34-18, they went into Saturday’s contest as favourites.
Certainly in the opening minutes the Azzuri looked dangerous as they enjoyed back-to-back sets on the Rams’ line.
However, in what was to be a trademark of their performance, Western stood firm.
Two minutes later the Rams were under pressure once more as a penalty for lying on a tackled player too long carried FIRLA deep inside their half.
However, once again the Rams repelled their rivals with Bathurst Panthers’ talent Blake Seager showing good hands as he plucked a dangerously bouncing grubber kick from the air.
Having absorbed that pressure, the Rams opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Oloapu spun in a tackle and found Jake Betts in support, who in turn sent the ball out to a flying Tom Satterthwaite.
The Orange CYMS winger crossed in the corner to make it 4-0.
FIRLA then sent the kick-off out on the full to put the Rams back into attack. The hosts did not waste the opportunity, Jackson Brien crossing in the left corner.
Warren Williams’ conversion attempt struck the post and bounced away to leave it at 8-0 after 17 minutes.
As the half unfolded the Azzuri began to enjoy more possession – a number of repeat sets coming on the back of penalties – but the Rams continued to muscle up in defence.
And it was not just the Rams’ big pack that impressed – halfback Chad Porter jolting the ball lose from the arms of FIRLA lock Ryan Tramonte in the 28th minute when he attempted to charge over from close range.
Then, nine out from half-time, Porter forced a line drop-out. From the set that followed, Group 10 player of the year Bamford steamed over to make it 12-0.
With five minutes of the half left, after a Blake Lawson line break, Brad James scooped the ball up from dummy half and sprinted down the right flank.
He ran away to score and with Porter adding the extras, it made it 18-0 to the Rams.
That’s how it remained until the break, the strong starting giving the hosts a chance of defeating their more fancied rivals.
The Rams had the breeze at their backs in the second half, but it was strong running that saw them extend their lead after four minutes.
Blake Seager charged over in the left corner after his fellow forwards had eaten up the yards.
Finally, with 47 minutes gone, FIRLA got on the board. Halfback Todd Sapienza sliced over from close range and converted his effort to make it 22-6.
The Azzuri clawed more ground back following an attacking scrum, fullback Christian Bate forcing his way over next to the sticks.
Sapienza again slotted the conversion to move his side within 10 of the lead with 24 minutes remaining.
However, when Rams prop Bamford picked up his second try via a hit and spin move with 17 left, it swung things back in favour of the hosts.
Blake Seager joined Bamford on a brace for the match soon after while Sam Dwyer scored on the following set.
Oloapu converted the first of those tries as Rams pushed ahead 36-12.
It then became four tries in as many sets as Brien and Dwyer crossed in quick succession.
To ice an impressive win by the Rams, Lithgow winger Keelan Bresac dived over on the siren to see his side hit the 50-points mark.
“I didn’t pick that, especially on a short preparation and against a side with a few stars, it was really good actually,” Jackson said.
“It was unexpected. I knew we had the ability there to do it, it was just whether or not we could put it together on the day.
“If we kicked a few more goals it might have been even better, but I’ll take that win.”
WESTERN RAMS 50 (Sam Dwyer 2, Jackson Brien 2, Blake Seager 2, Chris Bamford 2, Tom Satterthwaite, Keelan Bresac, Brad James tries; Chad Porter, Tui Oloapu, Brad James goals) defeated FEDERATION OF ITALIA RUGBY LEAGUE AUSTRALIA 12 (Todd Sapienza, Christian Bate tries; Todd Sapienza 2 goals)