Whiskey Jacks roll past Oats

Tuks Ratuki of the Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks stiff arms a Saskatoon Oats opponent as he tries to cut along the sideline with the ball during a September 7 matchup at Max Clunie Field. The Whiskey Jacks won, 24-5. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

It’s been an eventful three years for the Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks.

Their first year playing tier two rugby, they got off to a rough start, dropping their first four games, before bouncing back and winning the next four, finishing at an even .500.

Their second year, they fell into a sophomore slump, finishing the season with a record of 3-5.

In 2017, though, the Whiskey Jacks hit their stride. Prince Albert’s rugby club finished the year with an impressive 6-2 record Wednesday night at Max Clunie Field as they knocked off the visiting Saskatoon Oats 24-5.

“It was great to finish at home on a winning note,” said coach Dominic Elsbury.

“The guys played with some intensity. We’re starting to get a real core group of players together. Some of them have been together for nearly three years now, so they’re starting to get a feel for each other and for the game. That was the difference tonight.”

The Whiskey Jacks came in strong off the opening kick off. It looked like they would score early, as they broke running with the ball, kicking it downfield. It became a race to the ball, which had rolled into the in-goal area. A player from each team dove for the ball, but the Oats got there first.

Prince Albert would convert a try a few plays later, breaking out of a scrum and running down the sideline to score their first five points of the game. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

The Oats were quick to bounce back. They blasted the ball on the kick off, recovering about five yards out from the try line. Awarded a scrum, they pushed the Whiskey Jacks back, blasting to score a try of their own and tie the game. Their conversion was also unsuccessful.

From there on in it was all Whiskey Jacks.

Mike Harasyn, Kevin Mageto, Tuks Ratuki and Colm Cournane scored tries for Prince Albert, with Ratuki and Cournane adding converts.

Mike Harasyn of the Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks (top right) reaches for the ball during a line-out during a 24-5 win against the Saskatoon Oats September 7 at Max Clunie Field. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The win earns Prince Albert a spot in the division two playoff final on the road against the Saskatoon Badgers.

“It’s huge,” Elsbury said. “Every year we try to get better and better. It’s just the end result of all of the training, the fundraising, the winter training and all the rest of it. The guys should be really proud of themselves because they played a great game.”

The Whiskey Jacks were led by strong play by some of the younger players, including Harasyn, one of the Whiskey Jacks with a try.

“The young guys have really come through,” Elsbury said.

“Our captain, Graham Pedersen really led us from the front. Tristan Franc, another great young player, Kaleb Beauchesne, these young guys are really driving the team forward. Jordan Hryniuk, Mike Harasyn, they’re all local boys and they were the difference tonight.”

Mike Harasyn of the Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks keeps his eye on the ball during a September 7 victory against the Saskatoon Oats at Max Clunie Field. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Now the Whiskey Jacks will focus on preparing for the Badgers. The plan is to go into that game healthy. Prince Albert’s only two losses of the season came at the hands of the Badgers, who topped the local club 51-0 and 22-5.

“We’ll try and stay injury free as much as possible,” Elsbury said. “At the training sessions there’ll be some contact, but the main thing is trying to work on our game plan, work on some fitness and try to get mentally prepared. It was a great finish to the season at home. We’re looking forward to a week and a half’s time.”

The two teams will face off on Sept. 16 at 7 pm. In Saskatoon.