Reds gun returns to lift Uni’s hopes
SCHEMER Tate McDermott's comeback at Ballymore on Sunday will not only shake up University but predictions for the whole Premier Rugby finals series.
The livewire Reds halfback was still in a moon boot early last week but has been cleared to play on his troublesome ankle for the first time in two months.
He will play around 30 minutes off the bench in Sunday's sudden-death minor semi-final (5.15pm) which could prove a decisive accelerator against Easts.
Uni needed to win six straight games just to make the top four after a flat start but the return of four Reds aces has transformed them into a serious premiership threat.
Harry Hockings, Angus Scott-Young and finisher Jock Campbell were back last weekend but it's McDermott's sidestepping, up-tempo style which can get the most out of them.
"Tate plays the game fast, he's X-factor and he ignites things which is what we're hoping for against Easts," Uni skipper James Dalgleish said.
"We were playing sudden-death footy for five weeks there just to make the finals so we've definitely gained confidence from that."
The scrummaging of Australian Under-20s prop Rhys van Nek is a key factor in the Easts pack which has its own X-factor with Reds flanker Liam Wright and Fijian No.8 Seru Uru.
"We don't put teams away by 50 points but we work harder than other sides over the full 80 minutes," Easts captain Tom Milosevic said.
Minor premiers Brothers and defending champions GPS meet in the 3.05pm major semi-final on Sunday in the last finals series at Ballymore before it is redeveloped.
Powerful backrower Criff Tupou is back from a wrist injury for Brothers to take on a GPS side enlivened by Bryce Hegarty playing at flyhalf.
GPS do have the edge in experience with noted finals performer Mitch King and lock Dan Gorman galvanising the pack.
Inadvertently, two losses to GPS in the regular season have improved the Brethren by highlighting shortcomings.
"That first loss (38-16) brought us down to earth (after a 6-0 start) and really showed we had to tighten up our defence, scrum and lineout because we were bullied a bit there," Brothers skipper Tom Moloney said.
"You can't get away with anything but your best against a team like GPS and a better display in the second round (43-36) highlighted you have to start fast, not chase the game."
Remarkably, Brothers have qualified 10 teams for semi-finals in every grade, two colts divisions and the women's competition and it will be 11 should Colts 3 hold their standing.
Prop Moloney had a taste of Super Rugby with the Melbourne Rebels and the Japanese scene with Robbie Deans' Panasonic Wild Knights.
"There are things you can pass on at club level and I'm really enjoying Brothers at a time when there is such a hardworking attitude and good young players coming through," Moloney said.
Australian Under-20s lock Michael Wood is working overtime to repair a bad ankle but will only be a potential bonus if Brothers reach the grand final on August 18.