The Free Jacks kicked off their debut game in the MLR playing into a strong wind which the Sam Boyd Stadium provided little to no shelter. The wind was to be a deciding factor in the Free Jacks gaining momentum and accumulating a 22-7 lead at the end of the first half. Mitch Wilson will be a name Free Jacks fans remember as he opened the scoring for the Free Jacks after 5 minutes to dot down in the corner after the Free Jacks kept the pressure on RUNY since kick off and score the Free Jacks first MLR try.
Then on the 12th minute one of the craziest tries you are likely to see this season gave the Free Jacks a 12 point cushion. Leader tapped a penalty then launched a booming garryowen which played havok with the RUNY defense. Foden could not collect before the ball dropped which subsequently bounced onto the crossbar. It was then collected by Hemopo who had an easy dot down underneath the posts which made for an easy conversion.
RUNY’s best player on the day, number 8 Kyle Sumsion drove over for his first of two tries of the day to make the score 15 – 7 after 22 minutes. RUNY would have thought this brought them back into the game but the Free jacks struck back just 2 minutes later when man of the match Beaudein Waaka scored his first of 2 tries. Waaka showed great composure to finish off a fluid Free jacks back’s move.
RUNY did threaten in the first half particluarly off the lineouts through their maul with captain Dylan Fawsitt commanding the direction at the back but the Free jacks defence ultimately held out.
Unlike the first half which started at a blistering pace with the Free Jacks on the front foot, the start of the second half was more of a cagey affair with both sides feeling each other out. Ben Foden saw yellow after 52 minutes for an intentional knock on which would surely have seen a Free Jacks try had he not done so. Just 3 minutes later, the electric Waaka showed superb balance to score in the corner following some slick passing out the New England backline to make the score 27-7 after 55 minutes.
RUNY could not capitalise on the wind advantage like the Free Jacks did in the first half and on the 65th minute Liam Steel scored the Free Jacks 5th which was also the try of the day. After an electric burst from Waaka in which the ball was reclaimed after a chip and chase, Steel ran a great support line to dot down under the posts. This proved to be the cushion the Free jacks needed to see out the game. Although RUNY pushed hard until the end and did eventually score a consolation try through Kyle Sumsion, the Free jacks were in game management mode by then and could bring on the finishers to secure the game. The Free Jacks won 34-14.
What 1-0 feels like pic.twitter.com/SGTNRyMuJj— New England Free Jacks (@NEFreeJacks) February 9, 2020
The Free Jacks will be delighted with their opening game. There were excellent individual performances from Beaudein Waaka, John Poland, naulia Dawai and Brad Hemopo but it was their team spirit that was the most impressive particularly in the first half where turnovers were celebrated like tries with back slaps all round. RUNY on the other hand never really settled into the game. Their set-piece looked solid as always but they just couldn’t get any forward momentum in the game.
Both teams remain in Vegas with RUNY taking on Austin in Week 2 and the Free Jacks play the Warriors.