In 2008 NSW achieved victory in the Kings Cup by the narrowest of margins after a titanic struggle with Victoria all the way down the Olympic Course at Penrith. At no stage were these crews more than four tenths of a second apart with victory coming by only 0.21 seconds. The 2008 breakthrough was only the second victory for NSW in 25 years (Tim Maclaren’s 2004 crew had blazed the way) and after a strong preparation had only just prevailed.
2009 dawned for the Kings Cup squad with a few good omens in place. The crew were supported by the 2008 celebrations of the win held at the Olympic Farewell Dinner arranged by the newly formed NSW Kings Cup Committee in July 08 and the determination of the 2008 crew.
To try and replicate the win of 2008 a core group of rowers formed an unofficial sqaud in November and began some training sessions at Lane Cove. With three athletes in the development group at the AIS (Allsop, Grimm and Pragnell) it was not possible to boat what would be the final crew but the squad accommodated each other and with support from other rowers, including members of SUBC, the crew was able to get a number of sessions in Nov and December and with rowers returning home for Xmas and New Year a few times were arranged where all the squad members could row.
Following the national erg testing and the NSW State Championships the NSW Selectors were able to announce the final crew. Because of a shortage of bow-siders the decision was made to select Nick Hudson into the crew -Nick would have been the NSW Presidents Cup Sculler.
The squad had already had one trial “race” over 1500m at the NSW Championships and on the weekend of 21-22 Feb the AIS rowers joined the crew for a race rehearsal in the Open Eights at the Sydney Rowing Club Regatta. Following this regatta at SIRC the crew with coach Andrew Randell went into overnight camp at Nepean Shores and did an evening session on the river followed by a “bonding” session around the Nepean Shores pool – the session was funded by the Kings Cup Committee and we can report that the session was a strong success and no ugly incidents arose – fortunately our sport is not played with a ball!
We were fortunate to have returning Beijing silver medallists Matt Ryan and Francis Hegerty to lead our campaign. Unluckily in January Francis (who had stroked the crew in early sessions) had succumbed to an Achilles injury and had to withdraw from the crew.
In addition we had Dan Noonan (2008 Olympic Quad) Sam Loch (2008 Olympic Eight) and Terrence Alfred (2008 Olympic Sweep reserve) returning. Dan came into the boat after an emphatic win in the 2008 Presidents Cup Sculls and Sam and Terrence returned from the 2008 crew. As well 2008 winner Fergus Pragnell was selected.
Following the weekend camp the crew ws finally boated as Dan Noonan (Mosman) bow, Sam Loch (Syd Uni) 2, Nick Hudson (Syd Uni) 3, Dom Grimm (Sydney Rowing Club) 4, Richard Allsop (Syd Uni) 5, Matt Ryan (Syd Uni) 6, Fergus Pragnell (Sydney Uni) 7 and Terrence Alfred (Syd Uni) , stroke. With Marty Rabjohns working in Canberra Toby Lister (Syd Uni) got his first opportunity to steer the NSW Kings Cup eight. James Goswell (Sydney Uni) who had rowed in many training sessions – including the camp was named as reserve.
Coach Randell reported a very positive session on the Sunday morning of the camp during which the crew was boated in its final seating. The initial concerns that our bowside would be too weak were overcome with coach, cox and crew confident in the final combination.
Another plus was that Sydney Uni Boat Club had imported a new Empacher eight in October 2008 and made this boat available to the state crew.
After a week of heavy racing and managing to fit in a few training sessions at Lake Barrington the crew was ready. Matt Ryan reminded crew members of the ugliness of hearing the Victorian victory song and the crew came together looking to make it back to back victories – not schieved by NSW in this event since 1978.
Sunday morning dawned with a strong headwind at Lake Barrington but this moderated and dropped away completely by the start of the Interstate regatta. In the other races NSW crews did not get on the podium but Blues supporters knew that the KC8 was the only crew that had had any chance for a proper preparation and felt we (NSW) had a strong chance in the final event for one of Australia’s most prestigious sporting trophies.
And so it proved – winding out of the blocks at 46-47 the crew took a two seat advantage to the 250 metre mark. Here cox Lister called the first effort and the crew responded moving out to a strong lead of over 2 seconds as they came through the 500 mark in the very slick time of 1 minute 19 secs.
Settling into a racing rhythmn at 37 strokes the Light Blues moved further in front to lead by 3.3 seonds at the halfway from Victoria with Western Australia a further 2 secs behind.
At this stage veteran commentator Roger Wilson was almost conceding victory to NSW but in the boat the crew was determined that their next effort would bring the winning margin, a margin that would withstand any late rally by the “dark blues”. The 1500 came and went with NSW moving out to 4.3 seconds ahead and the Cup very close to their grasp.
A short stern end conference determined that the crew would cover the Vics in second over the final 500 although the lead at the line was extended to 5.16 seconds.
The jubilation within the crew appeared as the line approached. NSW first, Victoria second and Western Australia third. NSW 5.30.8 Vic 5.35.96 WA 5.39.06 Margins 5.16 and 3.10 secs NSW splits: 1.19.38 : 1.23.24 : 1.24.41: 1.23.77