Ladder position: 9th
Competition points: 26
Points scored: 472
Points conceded: 573
In a drama-filled season, the Wentworthville Magpies managed to challenge for a top eight spot in 2016 – but after such a promising start they will still be wondering what could have been.
The Magpies burst out of the blocks when the season kicked off in March, with four wins from their first five starts putting them at the top of the table along with Mounties; they met the joint ladder leaders in a Round 6 blockbuster. Mounties proved too strong for the Magpies, however, and the team would go on to lose their next eight encounters. What started as a hiccup turned into a hurdle, which turned into a slump and eventually a season-defining run of poor form. A win over the Panthers in Round 17 saw Wentworthville switch back on again – the Magpies won six from their last eight games – but another defeat at the hands of Mounties in Round 25 would see them denied the chance to play in September.
Off the field, there were numerous challenges for the club that is a feeder for the Parramatta Eels. With the Eels dealing with several off-field incidents – the salary cap breach and loss of competition points, criminal charges and subsequent suspension of star playmaker Corey Norman, the loss of hooker Nathan Peats, the failed attempt to lure Jarryd Hayne and the termination of several staff members to name a few – the effects could not be ignored at Wentworthville. The salary cap breach had the direct impact of forcing several regular Magpies into the top grade, while Norman’s suspension resulted in mid-season signing Jeff Robson spending just two games in black and white. The Round 13 resignation of coach Joe Grima due to poor health was another dramatic moment in a tumultuous season.
New coach Nathan Cayless and his players will be disappointed with their ninth-place finish, but they should be proud of their efforts in what must have been trying circumstances.
The Magpies’ season can be divided into three clear sections: a promising run of four from five at the start, a nine-game losing streak and a run home that included six wins from eight starts. Many of Wentworthville’s 10 wins were impressive, but none showed more resolve than a come-from-behind win over Illawarra in Round 24. After trailing 10-0 at half-time, the Magpies evened things up against the second-placed Cutters with 25 minutes remaining. A try to Honeti Tuha pushed Wentworthville into the lead, with a penalty goal and field goal eventually proving the difference.
It was do-or-die for the Magpies at that point and they responded perfectly against a very classy side. The task of defeating three top four sides in the Wests Tigers, Cutters and Mounties in the final three rounds was never going to be easy and the Magpies did well to win one of them, but ultimately this period decided their fate in 2016.
A 54-6 thrashing at the hands of Newtown in Round 14 is a clear winner in this category as Wentworthville offered nothing to challenge a class side. Just two weeks into his new role, Cayless realised the work that needed to be done to get his team back playing their best football. Similarly, it was just the side’s second week without injured half Mitch Cornish and the makeshift duo of Mick Doolan and Troy Dargan failed to compete with the Jets’ Josh Cleeland and Nu Brown.
A 79th-minute consolation to Tuha was all that saved the Magpies from being held to zero – an embarrassment they were spared from this year. In the 10-tries-to-one rout, Wentworthville were outplayed from the kick-off at Henson Park and it was clearly a lowpoint of 2016. Unfortunately the Magpies were still three weeks away from their first win since Round 5.
In a season with so many influential moments, it is hard to determine a single turning point, but the Round 6 loss to Mounties is a certain contender. The Magpies never led against the joint ladder leaders and the top-of-the-table clash clearly showed who deserved to be favourites in the competition. Tries to Bureta Faraimo and Kieran Moss brought the Magpies back within two in the second half and they were hopeful of a comeback, but defence ultimately let them down.
With a bye the following week, Wentworthville wouldn’t win again until July, with the change of coaches occurring midway through their losing streak. The damage had been done and it was too hard to recover from such a poor run of form in the middle of the season.
Honeti Tuha was a definite standout in his first year for the Magpies and while he won’t get the chance to repeat his Grand Final heroics of 2015, he will be happy with his successful shift to fullback mid-year. Scott Schulte and Dylan Izzard both featured prominently throughout the year, while hooker Sam Gorman proved his status as a workhorse of the competition. Throughout the opening 11 rounds, Mitch Cornish showed his ability to lead the side around the park but was cruelled with a season-ending injury; the club signed Robson a month later, who was almost immediately forced into the Eels’ side.
Destined for the NRL:
Tuha will be a clear contender for the Eels’ side in future, even with good backline depth at Parramatta. Cornish, who has previously played 15 NRL games for the Raiders, should expect more NRL experience upon his return next year. Cody Nelson, too, has played 11 games in the past, but it is not too late for the 27-year-old to add for this in future.
With the third-worst attack and third-worst defence, a holistic approach needs to be taken in improving the side for 2017. Cayless appeared to bring the team together nicely in the end and with what will hopefully be a more settled season next year, the Magpies will hope to reach their potential. With leads surrendered throughout the year – including against Mounties in Round 25 – game management will need to improve as well, but this will improve with the return of Cornish.)