It was that time of the year again- on the banks at Nagambie Lakes – the powerful men of Australian rowing were relaxing in their camps getting ready to battle for the most coveted trophy in eights racing – the 2010 Kings Cup. The trophy was originally donated for the 1919 Henley Peace Regatta by King George. Nowadays the efforts to win this prize are akin to a “war” effort on the part o the various crews.
In 2004 after a twenty year losing streak the New South Wales eight broke through at Nagambie for what was a rare win. Four year later in Sydney NSW pipped Victoria by 0.21 seconds in an epic struggle in which the two crews were never separated by more than four tenths of a second. Then in Tasmania in 2009 a “new look” NSW crew took the field by surprise with a blistering start and a runaway margin of nearly six seconds.
While the 2009 crew were still celebrating their win the small men of rowing, the power-brokers – yes the coxens, Toby Lister and Marty Rabjohns were already plotting how to get NSW’s first “ three in a row” in thirty years. The squad committed even then and while other events came and went in the mind of each rower the desire to dominate this event grew stronger. As well, all in the squad knew that the incredible success of the Victorians in this race since 1979 was a factor that was still not fully overcome and while it would be difficult in their careers to make up the imbalance of wins they were aware of history and the requirement to right this balance.
For the NSW squad preparations were hampered by injury and distance. With squad members located in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne getting the entire crew together at one time proved difficult. Two training times were arranged prior to the National regatta – a few days prior to Christmas in Sydney and three days at Penrith in late January. However the crew and seating had to be changed as first stroke Terrence Alfred and then No 5 Francis Hegerty succumbed to back injuries. Dom Grimm was also troubled by injury but intensive treatment saw him able to take his place in the crew.
With late withdrawals the coaches decided to move Dan Noonan as the next proven stroke, from bow to stroke and change sides. This left two vacant bow side positions one of which was filled by James Chapman ( Kings Cup winner 2004 and 2008). The NSW selectors decided to bring Nick Hudson back into the crew from his role as President’s Cup sculler to fill the last bow side position- the three seat.
Finally the crew was set and had their first training row at Nagambie on the Sunday before the Interstate Regatta. The crew was – from the stern: Toby Lister (cox), Dan Noonan, stroke, Fergus Pragnell, Matt Ryan, Nick Purnell, Dom Grimm, Nick Hudson, Sam Loch and James Chapman. Coach was Curtis Jordan, thirty year veteran of Princeton rowing. Despite re-seating the crew only had two changes from 2009. Nick Purnell was the “ young gun” coming into the squad and James Chapman – the veteran of six Kings Cup crews and two wins was returning.
As the final days approached the word from the Victorian camp was one of confidence – they were well prepared and ready to re-assert their rightful dominance in this event. They had lost John Linke late in the week with a calf injury but remained firm in their resolve to win back the trophy. The week had started with windy conditions but the day of the Interstate Regatta dawned with overcast skies and light breezes, after a night of heavy rain. The course was fair and in excellent condition. The scene was set, the race was scheduled for 1.45 pm.
The five crews (from lane 2 across) were NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. The crews assembled, the start was clean the 2010 Kings Cup was under way. The Vics were not taken by the surprise early speed of NSW as in 2009 and went hard early and into a slight lead after 300 metres. Here NSW made their first move and went back in front but only just as the crews raced through the 500 mark in just under 1 min 20 secs with NSW only 0.6 ahead of Victoria and SA third but already a length behind. At the 600 mark NSW began their push into the middle one thousand. Seven man Fergus Pragnell later reported that as cox Lister called for the effort the rhythm came into the boat, long strong and powerful and was among the best he had experienced in big boat racing. As the halfway approached it was clear the light blues were again dominating the race. They passed the 1000 metre with the rate up and moving out to a 1.8 second lead from Victoria with South Australia third nearly 8 seconds behind. The NSW push continued to the 1500 where the lead was now 3.75 seconds – close to the final winning margin. With Dan Noonan sitting back and reaching ideal length and rhythm the powerful group behind him were able to work effectively with the rate up and the NSW boat looked strong and dynamic as they went into the last quarter. The Victorians had rowed a great race and did not falter in their endeavours but had no match on the day for the performance of NSW. The light blues took two final steps up as they gained clear water on the Victorians and crossed the line in 5.27.95 a new course record and the fastest time ever rowed by a NSW eight to win this event.
The large, mainly local crowd had been looking for Victoria to reverse the fortunes of 2008 and 2009, but were in silence and appreciation of a great big boat row as NSW took out the event in convincing fashion to make their first “three in a row since 1978”. Three members of the NSW crew have been in each winning boat since 2008 – Fergus Pragnell, Matt Ryan and Sam Loch while for James Chapman this was also his third win having been in the 2004 and 2008 crews. For newcomer Nick Purnell this was a big day – at only his second year out of school he won gold in the Men’s Coxless Four and then held down the five seat in the winning NSW eight.
Coach Curtis Jordan had only arrived in NSW at the end of January but was quick to apply his skills and experience in big boat rowing to this crew’s preparation. As three man Nick Hudson said after the race: “Curtis laid down the race plan – we all bought into it and executed it as he requested. We had a great row.” Also behind the scenes NSWIS Program coordinator Marty Rabjohns (who coxed the 2008 crew) was instrumental in organising the athletes and crew program and in fostering the culture of this crew around this event.
NSW 5.27.95 Victoria 5.31.73 South Australia 5.39.73 Western Australia 5.46.67 Queensland 5.52.59