No.3: The Rock Rugby

Rock's national crowns record stands alone

John Browne jbrowne@thetelegram.com
Published on May 9, 2009
Rock players line up prior to a game to sing the Ode to Newfoundland, which is a provincial rugby tradition. - Telegram file photo

It sure didn't look like history in the making for this province after the first half of the Rugby Canada Super League championship game on a warm August night four years ago in Regina, Sask.

The Newfoundland Rock had been outplayed and found themselves down 13-3 to the host Prairie Fire team over the first 40 minutes in a battle of undefeated teams.

It sure didn't look like history in the making for this province after the first half of the Rugby Canada Super League championship game on a warm August night four years ago in Regina, Sask.

The Newfoundland Rock had been outplayed and found themselves down 13-3 to the host Prairie Fire team over the first 40 minutes in a battle of undefeated teams.

The year before, the Newfoundland side fell 14-8 at home to Vancouver Island Crimson Tide in the RCSL final. Two years earlier, the Tide beat The Rock 6-3 in the championship game, so it looked as if the provincial representatives were destined to be unwitting bridesmaids once again.

However, a couple of early devastating, borderline-legal hits by veteran Rock prop Rod Snow set the tempo for the final 40 minutes that saw the Newfoundland team rally to score 23 unanswered points on the way to defeating Prairie Fire 26-13 to win the province's first Canadian rugby championship.

It would be the first of three national titles for the team in four years.

No provincial team has won more national championships than The Rock. For the team's remarkable level of success over the years, The Rock has earned the No. 3 spot on The Telegram's list of Newfoundland and Labrador's 10 best teams.

Snow, a former Welsh league professional, had an observation prior to the '05 final that would prove prophetical.

"I know these guys don't earn any money to play this sport, but Newfoundland players are far more professional than we used to be," he said. "We used to have a big, tough pack of forwards who weren't very fit or skillful. This team has its share of toughness, but more than that, they are incredibly fit and they have a high skill level.

"This is a completely different team than the old Newfoundland-mould teams," Snow said.

He couldn't have been more accurate.

It was the Rock's superior fitness level combined with skill, focus and a relentless aggressiveness on offence and defence that won that day in 2005 and also produced national championships in 2006 and 2008.

Rock coach Pat Parfrey recently noted that of the 22 who played in the team's first RCSL final, which The Rock lost in 2002, 10 (Frank Walsh, Peter Densmore, Phil Alcock, Chris Mooney, Sean O'Leary, Kevin Parfrey, Ken Goodland, Dean Blanks, Robert Wilson, Mike Rudofsky) played in the 2008 final, "a testament to their longevity.

"And," added Parfrey, "eight of the team who played in 2008 final played for Canada (Snow, Walsh, O'Leary, Kevin Parfrey, Andrew Fagan, Tyler Wish, Wilson, Ciaran Hearn), a testament to their quality."

But the first Canadian championship will always be special in the 11-year history of the RCSL.

Snow said after the '05 final, "I was just desperate to win, so you go out and lay your body on the line. We knew we had it in us even though we trailed at halftime. We made a few mistakes, but 10 minutes into the second half, we knew they were getting tired."

Tired and palpably demoralized, many of the Fire players, who looked so impressive in the first half, seemed disoriented at times by the relentless Rock attack and a tightened defence that refused to yield any more points.

Perhaps the players found something extra within themselves they doubted they had until pushed to the limit; something dormant until the choice was to either go through the motions or push back.

The Rock pushed back.

There was no panic, no second guessing and certainly no fear. In fact, some of the Rock players said they got a sense late in the first half that the Fire were softening up despite the score.

And while that became rather obvious in the second half of the game, you couldn't blame the Newfoundland supporters at the match for being pessimistic based on previous finals when The Rock's defence was superb but the offense was anemic.

"After we got our first try, you could see things changing," said veteran Rock captain Peter Densmore. "And when we tied the game up and got into the next scrum, the look on their faces was like, 'God, no.'

"You could see it in their eyes," he reflected.

"They just keep coming at us," said the Fire's Jason Carson, who seemed a wee bit shell shocked moments after the final whistle.

On a whole, The Rock were super fit but not without players who were coming back from recent injuries or veterans whose future seasons were probably numbered. They all sucked it up and refocused for what would prove to be a significant milestone in our sports history.

It was a case of a team, in the moment, recognizing its time had come.

The Rock finally got over the hump and won the big one and, even more impressive, they won it on the road in hostile territory with a comeback for the ages.

The final whistle saw The Rock players and their supporters go crazy with excitement and a little relief mixed in.

Parfrey was beaming with pride, while assistant coach Frank Deacy, who died last year, fought back tears saying he'd been waiting for this moment, "all of my life."

Most of the players just walked around with smiles on their faces, hugging anyone in sight.

The majority of the 3,500 spectators had abandoned the prairie playing grounds when the Newfoundland players finally got to hoist the McTier championship trophy.

The athletes on that field that night in Regina, belting out the Ode to Newfoundland, may not have thought about it as they celebrated their history-making win, but there would never be an option of going back. Now, with expectations raised, future Rock sides would be expected to meet them.

That's the thing about knocking down a barrier. There's always one more.

The real challenge, then, is wanting to get better at it.

jbrowne@thetelegram.com




Selection criteria

The object: To select the 10 best teams Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Six prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy, John Browne and Kenn Oliver of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Teams must have been primarily comprised of athletes from Newfoundland and Labrador, competed in or represented the province, or country, in athletic competition. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
Jill Brewer: A long-time diving coach in St. John's, Brewer is head of the St. John's recreation department. A former Canada Games coach, she is a member of the St. John's Molson Athlete of the Year Committee.
Ian Campbell: A two-sport star (hockey and baseball) with the Guards in St. John's during the late 1950s and '60s, Campbell was the 1963 and '65 St. John's athlete of the year and is a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
George Faulkner: Newfoundland's 'Mr. Hockey', Faulkner was voted the No. 1 athlete on The Telegram's Top 10 list of athletes last year. He is a Newfoundland Sports and Newfoundland Hockey Hall of Famer.
Kathy Gosse: A long-time sports reporter at the Clarenville Packet, Gosse knows how to play the game, too. She was the 1972 St. John's Female Athlete of the Year.
Chris Green: A Corner Brook radio personality for over 30 years, Green has called play-by-play in hockey from the old Newfoundland Senior Hockey League to the American Hockey League (Cape Breton Oilers). Today, Green anchors the morning news for CFCB radio in Corner Brook.
Joe Wadden: A long-time baseball and basketball standout in St. John's, Wadden is a member of both the provincial hardball and hoops Halls of Fame. He is a 2009 inductee into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.




rockers

The Rock senior rugby team has won three Canadian Rugby Super League championships. Players on those rosters for each season were:
2005 Team
Frank Walsh, Peter Densmore, Rod Snow, Sean O'Leary, Chris Mooney, Andrew Fagan, Kevin Parfrey, Ken Goodland, Brendan Parfrey, Dean Blanks, Mike Simpson, Tyler Wish, Robert Wilson, Mike Rudofsky, Ciaran Hearn, Dale Pike, Dave Penney, Brad Lester, Mike Webb, Justin Meyers, Steve Hubley, Geoff Coughlan, Owen Parfrey, Wes Aylward, Colin Penney, Bobby Neville, Mike Yetman, Adam Hill, Ryan Metcalfe, coach Pat Parfrey, assistant coaches Simon Blanks, Frank Deacy and manager Bas Crosbie, conditioning coach Bob Thompson and physiotherapist Sean Gibbons.
2006 Team
Walsh, Densmore, Snow, O'Leary, Mooney, Webb, Kevin Parfrey, Fagan, Simpson, Blanks, Mike Rudofski, Wilson, Brian McKenzie, Geoff Warden, Hearn, Brendan Parfrey, Brian Cook, Kurt Williams, Hill, Danny King, Koenraad Buseman, Owen Parfrey, Jason Picco, Goodland, Phil Alcock, Hubley, Steve Harris, Adam Paul, Wish, Jolon Jenneaux, Adam Nolan.
2008 Team
Walsh, Densmore, King, Mooney, Lester, Kevin Parfrey, Fagan, Ken Goodland, Paul, Blanks, Rudofski, Wish, Wilson, Grant Moffatt, Morgan Lovell, Owen Parfrey, Snow, O'Leary, Alcock, Meyers, Penney, Hearn, Mike Holloway, Picco, Chris Burt, Robert Caines, Andrew McCabe, Cyril Bugden, Adam Hill, Hubley.