QUAFL Day #2 Report
It must surely be nearly impossible for anyone to find one single indelible highlight nestled within a weekend of such magnitude as QUAFL 2012. Furthermore, I am not a man of sensitive sensibilities. Yet the image of ten teams of assorted quidkids spontaneously sharing an immense and circular group hug is not one that will depart easily. After all the politics, all the planning, all the on-field intensity, here we all were, still as one. And it was no small level of intensity these sturdy friendships had to endure. With the weather blessedly balmier (perhaps the second happiest memory of the weekend), the games longer and more endurable and the top teams left to fight each other for glory, the quality and veracity of play grew conspicuously.
With the two group winners, UNSW and Macquarie, earning themselves a nice late start through their Saturday performances, the morning opened with a pair of elimination finals. Each match saw the second placed team from one group playing against (and theoretically expected to beat) the third placed team from the other. But it’s never that simple. The last three months of Triwizard form has suggested the top New South Wales teams are almost un-differentiable, and that’s without throwing the two newbies, Melbourne and Sydney, into the mix. It was those two (somewhat) surprise packages who would face first up.
1st Elimination Final: Melbourne – 120* vs Sydney – 20
The University of Sydney Unspeakables and Melbourne Manticores had been the two supreme revelations of QUAFL 2012. Both came within a lucky break of peerlessly topping their groups undefeated. Sydney’s only loss resulted from their gallant overtime struggle against Macquarie, decided by the fortunate lottery that is the overtime snitch, which Edwin Nelson snatched. Melbourne were undefeated until their tight and controversial late afternoon loss to UWS.
It is a reflection on the the harsh nature of the tournament that those two defeats left the Unspeakables second in Pool A and the Manticores third in Pool B. So they faced off earlier than many the day before would have predicted.
The clash was an intriguing one though, because an unlucky single Saturday loss wasn’t all these two teams had in common. This match also marked the meeting of an unstoppable force against an immovable object, as the tournament’s two most individually styled and tactically aggressive teams faced off.
At brooms up, Sydney captain Declan Waddell got to the quaffle first and duly scored possibly the quickest goal of the tournament. By the time a minute had passed, Waddell had already scored a spectacular opener and gotten himself a yellow card. Star Manticore chasers Katherine Hunter and Michael Butera drew the bulk of Sydney attention, allowing Kat Young into open space to equalise, before Butera and captain Hunter took total control of the contest themselves. A pair of goals each later and Melbourne were 50-10 clear and well on their way to the minor semi-final.
Melbourne keeper Robbie Tucknott proved himself to be the ultimate immovable object, in the process rendering Sydney’s Regan Pullen a well and truly stopped force, as the Unspeakable chaser careened front-on into Tucknott and was suitably floored. Pullen was uninjured though, continuing this weekend’s fortunate and trend-breaking streak of luck as far as major injuries are concerned.
It took until the eighth minute for Andrew Bell to get a second score on the board for the Unspeakables. But it was scant relief for Melbourne well and truly had their measure.
It took a team as equally physical as the Manticores to take it to Unspeakables and beat them at their own game. The scoring rate only increased as Butera and Hunter ran amok, drawing Melbourne miles clear of snitch danger.
With his team leading 90-20, the pressure was off Sam Washington and he had no trouble putting the icing on the cake, snapping up the snitch and completing a veritable thrashing as far as finals matches go.
It would prove to be the first and last game of the day not decided by the snitch catch.
2nd Elimination Final: Newcastle – 80* vs UWS – 50
The second elimination final of the day pitted 2011 runners-up and Pool B runners-up UWS against the struggling top seeds Newcastle, who were scratchy all day Saturday and had scraped through Pool A by the skin of their teeth.
In October, these two played out a frenzied high-scoring classic in which Newcastle came from behind to triumph. At least initially, as so often happens, this rematch went a completely different direction. It was a defensive struggle from the off, with neither team able to score in the opening exchanges. Not only that, but the usually chaser-dominant UWS found themselves controlling the bludger contest, while the famously strong Fireball beaters offered little resistance. The absence of the injured Thomas Russell and Newcastle’s lack of female depth were showing themselves to be decisive hardships to overcome. Gender ratio forced Captain Lora Wiggins to start with Matt Ingram, a pair of the highest individual quality, but not a partnership in which either were familiar or comfortable.
With Christian Barquin and Thomas Tan dominating the beater contest, it was left to the veteran UWS chaser trio of Daniel Ormshaw, Corey Ingold-Dawes and Chrystal Player to put the finishing touches onto the performance. There is no chaser unit more equipped at clinical finishing. It was only Newcastle’s spirited defence, led by indomitable keeper Roy Velting, which limited UWS to two goals in the first eight minutes.
But everything was going wrong for Newcastle. They could maintain no sustained pressure, then lost the talismanic figure of Celeste Hollingsworth to a knee injury. UWS slowly ground down the fireballs and there would be no stopping Ingold-Dawes in particular as he completed a hat-trick which took his team to a crucial 50-10 lead.
It took the introduction of Darren Faulkner into the game to turn the tide in Newcastle’s favour. Faulkner scored twice in thirty seconds to hand his side momentum. But the Fireballs had more than just momentum over their old rivals, they also had an advantage in depth of both numbers and quality, as well as tactical adaptability. By the twentieth minute Newcastle had wrested the upper hand from UWS against the odds, eventually evening the score up at 50-50.
So it would come down to the snitch, and Darren Faulkner cemented himself as undisputed man of the match, relieving Julian Kirkby and making the catch neither Kirkby nor Barquin could to seal another amazing comeback win for Newcastle.
Once again, UWS found themselves out of a tournament surprisingly and perhaps undeservedly early considering their performance.
For the Fireballs, much more work would still need to be done if they were to be any chance of taking home the trophy at the end of the day.
With these first two results, both second placed teams had been knocked out by both third placed teams, highlighting the closeness of competition.
Major Semi Final: University Of New South Wales – 110*(80*) vs Macquarie – 90(80)
UNSW and the Mac Malaclaws both managed to fight through adversity and top their respective pools, leaving the two great rivals to face off for an astonishing seventh time in 2012. The head to head of three apiece tells you all you need to know about the closeness of these two great clubs. But recent form, both head to head and from QUAFL Saturday, suggested the hosts should go in as slightly favourites. But nobody told UNSW.
Early on it was a tough and rugged contest, confined largely to centre-field as each team’s impressive beater units dominated proceedings. Kieran Tolley and Ben Chau in particular were stellar, ensuring neither team could build a string of genuine chances.
Macquarie were having to adjust to life without Carl Quitzau for Sunday and appeared slightly tentative in their quaffle play, allowing UNSW to have the run of play. Minh Diep led the way with a pair of goals, split by a solitary score from Andrew Culf before he went off to seek. But Macquarie’s renowned defence, as well as an Amber Williams goal, kept UNSW in check, restricting them to a 30-10 lead after ten minutes despite their ruthlessly impressive quidditch.
Alex Hood and Liam Skeates-Udy had the unenviable task of collectively filling Quitzau’s keeping boots, but they showed themselves to be a snug fit, particularly in attack. A pair of goals from Hood levelled the scores and shifted the momentum towards the Malaclaws. Skeates-Udy then relieved Hood after his hard work and duly added an equally speedy brace of his own to take Macquarie 50-30 clear.
The Malaclaws’ momentum was broken however, when their seeker pursued the misbehaving snitch onto an ill-advised roof, inevitably leading to a disastrous fall and time out while the full St John Ambulance contingent attended to the snitch.
Upon the resumption of play, Beth Crane made her experienced presence felt, levelling the scores with a quick pair. But once again Macquarie showed themselves to have the stronger staying power, slowly grinding their opponents down and creeping clear again.
But with the match running well and truly beyond its allotted time and a replacement snitch flitting back towards the field with Andrew Culf in pursuit, time was not on the Malaclaws’ side. Culf did the job, snapping the snitch for UNSW, but a hasty pair of goals from Hood and captain Laura Bailey had taken Macquarie 30 clear just in time and out of jail.
With the score finishing at 80-80, onwards to overtime both teams went, with a place in the Grand Final the prize. Skeates-Udy scored quickly to re-establish Macquarie’s ascendancy, but Culf could not be stopped, making a second snatch and booking a second consecutive Grand Final berth for UNSW.
Minor Semi Final: Newcastle – 60* vs Melbourne – 20
With UNSW safely through to the Grand Final, Macquarie awaited the winner of this game to see who would join the reigning champions in the decider. Melbourne was an ominous challenge for the out of form Newcastle, but things were slowly starting to come together for the Fireballs. The Manticores fronted up with their usual intimidating line-up. But Newcastle chose not to try and match this, instead opting for the speed of Desany Phanoraj and Levi Weitenberg as chasers and relying on their beater game.
Once again Melbourne showed a weakness straight off the start, with Weitenberg snapping up the quaffle and opening the scoring. But that was not where the similarities with their last game ended, for Melbourne quickly took control of the quaffle contest. But they found Newcastle’s beater defence an altogether harder proposition to penetrate than Sydney’s had been. Matt Ingram and Lora Wiggins kept the Manticores out, while the Manticore defence was less effective at dealing with Newcastle’s small nimble chasers.
Melbourne use their muscle to dominate a contest, but rather than fighting what is likely an unwinnable fight, Newcastle ran rings around the opposition instead. Phanoraj’s fleet-footedness kept her clear of the physical contest, while Weitenberg was the perfect nuggety finisher, adding a second goal five minutes in.
Melbourne were far from beaten though, fighting back with goals to Robbie Tucknott and Mick Butera to level the scores. But Newcastle had their measure in a way no other team had managed and the frustration eventually showed with Tucknott red-carded for an aggressive and unsighted off-the-ball challenge.
Newcastle’s subsequent numerical advantage opened the game up further, allowing the stellar Dameon Osborn to finally get on the board and re-establish Newcastle’s lead in the twelfth minute. But such a tight defensive game was always going to come down to the snitch.
Sam Washington was well positioned as ever, but Julian Kirkby sprung from nowhere to take a spectacular diving catch and seal what could ironically, considering the pre-tournament odds, be considered an upset victory.
Preliminary Final: Newcastle – 80* vs Macquarie – 50
The Preliminary final saw our first (and only) Saturday rematch of the tournament. Considering the controversy, passion and surprise of Macquarie’s first up demolition of Newcastle, it was anyone’s guess what could happen this time.
The start of the match was certainly no less physical, with the decidedly kamikaze duo of Liam Skeates-Udy and Levi Weitenberg in particular meeting bodies regularly. But Skeates-Udy was the difference initially, taking Macquarie to an early 20-0 lead. Desany Phanoraj then hit back with an amazing winding deflecting solo run, but the Malaclaws were opening up space in the Fireball defence which Laura Bailey slid herself into to add a third goal.
It took until after this opening frenzy for both teams to get a hold on the match defensively, through courageous chaser and keeper walls more than beater play. Macquarie took the controversial decision of not starting star beater Kieran Tolley, but the new pairing of Daniel Claxton and Roman Penna proved curiously effective in an uncomplicated way.
For Newcastle, injury was the primary concern. With Russell and Hollingsworth already lost, Emily Roberts also went down, stretching the female Fireball contingent distressingly thin. But Newcastle have carved a niche for themselves as the comeback kings, so a two goal advantage was never going to be enough. Phanoraj added her second in the eighth minute before late reinforcement Dameon Osborn came into the match with immediate effect.
When a loose quaffle fell fortuitously to keeper Roy Velting, leaving him to score almost unchallenged, Newcastle had hit the front.
But if there’s one team that can match Newcastle for depth, it’s Macquarie. Chasers as talented as John Ilacqua and Edwin Nelson had been largely unfeatured in the early stages and when they both scored crucial goals, only for yet another second wave Fireball to score in Darren Faulkner, it was all square.
Desany Phanoraj then became Newcastle’s latest injury concern, forcing the heroic former captain Hollingsworth to hobble on field to retain gender ratio. Thankfully, the end was near.
Predictably and appropriately, Mr snitch had final say again. On this occasion the snitch was trying particularly hard to be bedevilling, shielding himself amidst spectators and team-mates to try and deftly sneak back towards the field. But Julian Kirkby was not fooled, pouncing and continuing the unlikely Fireball miracle.
The Malaclaws can consider themselves supremely unlucky, having gone through Saturday undefeated then overcome the lack of Carl Quitzau admirably on Sunday. But two high quality performances weren’t quite enough, because they came against the seeking juggernauts that are Andrew Culf and Julian Kirkby.
Now we would wait with bated breath for these to come face to face, for ultimate glory.
Grand Final: UNSW – 80* vs Newcastle – 30
On November 26 2011, UNSW became the inaugural national quidditch champions when they defeated UWS in the QUAFL 2011 Grand Final. Since then they have been up and down, doing just enough to retain top seed in their pool for QUAFL 2012.
Newcastle disappointed in 2011, falling to fourth after two disastrous losses to UNSW and UWS. But in 2012 they have ascended to the very top of the game, emphatically earning their own status as a top seed.
So coming to Saturday December 1 2012, UNSW and Newcastle were our two mathematical favourites. Yet after their respective first matches, both had been defeated and the balance of power seemed to be decisively shifting. But thirty six hours and twenty five matches later here we were with the two old favourites, having come full circle.
After much pretentious pre-match fanfare and grandiosity, including an inspiring multi-verse performance of the national anthem by Laura Bailey, it was show time.
If the tension wasn’t palpable enough, these two teams had gone to overtime in both their previous encounters. In September, UNSW dominated only for Newcastle to steal it with consecutive snitch catches. In October, roles were reversed as UNSW came from 30 behind to win with twin-snatches.
There is nothing about each other that these two teams don’t well and truly know, as was clear from the intense early exchanges. For all the flaws in both teams’ performances this QUAFL and for all the theoretical quality of teams like Macquarie and Melbourne in comparison, there should no doubting that both these teams were deserving Grand Finalists. The quality of quidditch was immediately taken to a new level hitherto unseen over the duration of the tournament.
It was UNSW in particular who were responsible for such flawlessly textbook and efficient attacking quidditch. Ben Chau was extraordinary as ever with the bludgers, including an incredible pot-shot at the quaffle as it fired towards the goal, striking it in mid-air from below as it passed over his head. Chau was admirably supported by the nimble, pestery and underrated Ena Luis. With defence well and truly taken care of, Chris Rock, Beth Crane, Andrew Culf and Minh Diep, four names that speak for themselves, were left to dominate quaffle proceedings.
UNSW were playing all the quidditch, clearly feeling the advantage of having played two less matches than their wounded opponents. In any other circumstance, UNSW would have ran amok, but not against the quaffle defensive courage and dexterous beater annoyance of Newcastle. After ten minutes, UNSW could only manage a pair of goals, both to Culf. When he left to seek, there was surely cause for concern.
But Ashwin Tembe proved an adequate replacement, scoring quickly, then setting up Beth Crane for one of her trademark wrestling twisting short range goals. At 40-0 now, things were officially getting dire for Newcastle. But they can never be discounted. Four goals was the margin against UWS at one stage, and like that game early in the morning, it was a sudden pair of spectacular goals which shifted the momentum, this time from Dameon Osborn.
Desany Phanoraj quickly added to Newcastle’s column and suddenly it was 40-30 and tension filled the air. Chris Rock added a fifth for UNSW, but it was now palpably clear to everyone that the final snitch catch would decide QUAFL 2012. However no-one could have expected the kind of anti-climactic yet in its own way, curiously dramatic conclusion.
As quaffle play continued unabated, of the highest intensity and quality, a humble snitch ref came panting up the hill, with vital news from afar.
“The Green guys caught it.”
And with that highly official sounding pronouncement, UNSW had done it again.
Andrew Culf was the hero, diving fearlessly into a murky lake to follow the enterprising snitch and coming up with the tournament-winning catch.
Against the odds, UNSW had once again risen to the occasion when it really mattered, successfully defending their title.
Written by James Hosford
Photography by Matt Hudson