Although the 45-12 result – Queensland scored two tries with the game done and dusted – was the most dominant Waratahs performance in years, Reds coach Brad Thorn admitted his side weren’t mentally there after the sudden death of Jordan Petaia’s father during the week.
The 33-point margin was almost the largest in 138 years between NSW and Queensland. Had Jack Hardy and James O’Connor not scored late five-pointers, the margin would have matched a 45-0 shellacking at North Sydney Oval in 1955.
It was, however, the Waratahs’ biggest win over the Reds since Super Rugby began in 1996, topping the 34-3 result in 2014.
“We had the confidence first half when the ball was quite usable to back our attack and some individuals really stepped up, which was nice,” Penney said. “We were excited and played bloody well and the Reds have had a tough week. Emotionally they might not have been on song tonight.”
Thorn paid tribute to Tielu Petaia, who died of a heart attack on Wednesday night.
“Mentally we weren’t there, I think that’s obvious to see,” Thorn said. “Thursday night we had some players who supported Jordy around that. We’re really feeling for him and his family. His dad was a wonderful man, Tielu.”
The crushing bonus-point win puts the Waratahs equal on 11 points with the Reds but into third spot on for and against. The Super Rugby AU is now wide open with four rounds remaining.
Gordon, in his first start of the season, was superb. His speed and vision have been on show for some time but Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is only now getting a good look.
The wily halfback’s quick tap caught the Reds napping and was a carbon copy of what Queensland No.9 Tate McDermott did in the Super Rugby opener.
Just as Waratahs players began to quietly entertain the thought of Mad Monday in a few weeks, they gave starved fans an A-grade demonstration of what they can do with confidence and a spring in their step.
“The players have taken a step forward in terms of their belief and confidence in what we’re trying to do,” Penney said.
While youth has been a recurring topic of conversation this season, only two starters – Will Harrison and James Ramm – are part of ‘Generation Next’. The older heads delivered in spades.
The kick up the backside NSW received after an insipid performance against the Rebels two weeks ago could not have worked better as the triple Js – Jake Gordon, Jack Maddocks and Jack Dempsey – stepped up in a big way.
The Waratahs’ lull came after a crushing Brumbies defeat in round three and one wonders if the Reds, who lost courtesy of a kick after the siren in Canberra last week, suffered similar trauma that hampered their ability to get up for this one. Thorn thinks perhaps that may be plausible.
The Reds’ minds were still in Brisbane, or still celebrating the achievement of breaking an 11-game losing streak against NSW in round one. Four missed Reds lineouts in the first half was inexcusable.
“It was tough viewing and I imagine it was tough out on the field,” Thorn said. “We didn’t handle much at all in the first 40 minutes. In defence, [we were missing] one-on-one tackles from the get-go.”
Need we say any more about Michael Hooper? Lumped with captaincy duties due to the late scratching of Rob Simmons, Hooper turned it on and gave a baby-faced Reds back row a technical masterclass at the breakdown. And didn’t he love it.
“It was great to be a part of,” Hooper said. “Tonight the conditions were no different to other nights we’ve been here and the ball movement was terrific. The intent of the guys across the board was exceptional in attack and defence.”
NSW fired out of the blocks and led 10-0 thanks to some individual brilliance from Ramm who burned opposite winger Jock Campbell on the outside before a clever chip and chase that got hot potatoed to Gordon.
But it was the overthrown Queensland lineout, excellent box kick from Gordon and metre-eating carries from Hooper and Dempsey shortly afterwards that put the Waratahs in the right end of the field.
Unlike other clashes, they made the most of their chances and attack coach Chris Whitaker will be thrilled.
Before the Reds could blink, it was 38-0 heading into the tunnel. The heavens opened up at the break and that was all she wrote.
The Reds will have to put Petaia’s personal heartbreak to one side if they are to get their campaign back on track.
“I can’t seem to keep the tears away,” Petaia wrote on Instagram. “I ain’t ever felt pain like this. I hate feeling like this. I still can’t believe what’s happened. Your heart and mind were so pure. I’ll love and miss you forever Dad.”
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Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald