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Home Sports Whiskey Jacks fall to Kradgers in home opener

Whiskey Jacks fall to Kradgers in home opener

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Whiskey Jacks fall to Kradgers in home opener
The Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks take on the Saskatoon Kradgers during North Saskatchewan Rugby Union (NSRU) Division 2 action at Max Clunie Field. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks built a healthy second half lead, but couldn’t hang on to victory in their home opener against the Saskatoon Kradgers on Wednesday.

Derek McKenzie led the Whiskey Jacks with two tries, while Colm Cournane kicked a successful penalty, but the Kradgers roared back with two late tries of their own to win 29-20 at Max Clunie Field.

“We had a good work ethic, especially in the first half,” Whiskey Jacks captain Graham Pedersen said afterwards. “Lots of good tackling. We had our game plan set, and then I think it was just fitness that got us there in the end. We were doing really good up until the last 10 minutes. We just need to keep carrying forward with it.”

Hugh Pritchett scored the other try for the Whiskey Jacks, who played an abbreviated season last year. Player-coach Darcy Murphy said everyone was excited to be back on the pitch, but the club showed a bit of rust in their return to action.

“There was 10 or 12 minutes where we would dominate them and then we would give the ball up with a silly mistake,” Murphy said. “We’re still shaking the rust off. Mistakes are going to happen and we were prepared for it, but we’re leading with 11 minutes left, and they scored 20 points on us in 11 minutes. That’s the difference in the game right there.”

Turnovers played a big part in Wednesday night’s game. The Prince Albert squad hemmed Saskatoon inside their own end for lengthy stretches, but couldn’t turn possession into points on the scoreboard.

Murphy gave the visitors full credit for their stingy defence, but said the Whiskey Jacks have room to improve.

“There was 17 times—nine times in the first half and eight in the second half—(where) we took the ball into contact and lost it,” he explained. “That’ll kill any rugby team. We’ve got to work on ball retention. That would have been the difference. It could have been 50-10 the other way if we would have been able to hang on to the ball.

“They’re good at jackaling—one guy making the tackle and the other guy going for the ball. If you don’t have the support players there to continue that ruck, you’re going to lose it pretty quickly, so I give the other team a lot of credit for that too.”

Prince Albert dominated play early in the first half and opened the scoring on a successful Colm Cournane penalty to take a 3-0 lead. However, the Kradgers stormed back with the first try of the game to go in front, but missed the ensuing kick.

The Kradgers scored again before the end of the first half, taking advantage of an out-manned right side to add another try, giving the visitors a 12-3 lead at the half.

Prince Albert stormed back with three straight tries in the second half. McKenzie started the scoring by plunging across the goal line just inside the pylon for his first try of the night. He then added his second not long after, bulldozing his way through the Kradgers defence and just across the goal line. Cournane’s convert was good, giving Prince Albert a 15-12 lead.

The Whiskey Jacks extended that lead on the longest solo effort of the night. Hugh Pritchett scooped up a loose ball following a bad Kradgers pass, and sprinted nearly half the field for the score. The convert was no good, putting Prince Albert in front 20-12.

However, the Kradgers rallied in the final few minutes with three tries, including a long run to close out the scoring on the final play of the game, taking a 29-20 lead and the win.

“We played hard,” Murphy said. “Our tackling was phenomenal. (There are) solid rubgy players up in PA—always have been. I wasn’t too worried about our defence. It was just those costly mistakes taking the ball into contact that cost us.”

The Whiskey Jacks are back in action on Wednesday, June 1 when they take on the Saskatoon Goats. Game time is 8 p.m. at Max Clunie Field.

Things are starting to return to normal for Prince Albert rugby after a turbulent last two years.

The club was forced to cancel their 2020 season due to COVID, and played a short series of exhibition games last August for their 2021 campaign.

Although the score didn’t go their way on Wednesday, everyone was happy to get back to league action.

“It’s awesome,” Pedersen said when asked about the return of league play. “It’s definitely something we missed. We’ve got a good group of guys here and we’re all itching to get back on the pitch and play a good game.”

It’s phenomenal,” Murphy added. “We put half a season together in August last year and we were really successful in that five or six games that we played. We were looking to carry it forward to this year. It’s May and we’re playing rugby, so life doesn’t get any better.”