MILTON-ULLADULLA Bulldogs star Blake Mackey has recently returned home after helping the Philippines reach the Rugby League Emerging Nations World Championships trophy final.
Mackey, who played two Tests for his Filipino team in Thailand last season, and his Tamaraws side went into their ‘biggest ever tournament’ full of confidence following a strong camp.
“The squad had been training hard leading up to the tournament but we didn’t train as a full squad until we got into camp,” Mackey said.
“We were excited to be placed in Pool A and were eager for our first game against the competition favourites Malta [a side featuring Jamberoo’s Jono Dallas and Warilla-Lake South’s Emanuel Sultana].
“Most of us played together in previous Tests, so we found our rhythm pretty quickly.”
Mackey’s side opened their campaign with back-to-back losses to Malta (36-10) and Nuie (24-12) – seeing them move into the trophy section of the draw.
“Our opening match against Malta was a tough game,” Mackey said.
“Malta were a very mobile side and moved us around the park well.
“But despite going down 36-10 it was a good game of footy.
“Niue were physical – I’ve never played a team with so much size across the park.
“Although we went down 24-12, it was one of our better performances of the tournament.
“Niue had some big physical forwards and our middle didn’t take a backwards step.”
This set up a showdown with Turkey, for a berth in the trophy final – played at St Marys League Stadium.
“Our win against Turkey was very scrappy,” Mackey said.
“We strung some patches of good footy together but we all agreed it was our worst performance of the tournament.
“But a win’s a win and that was an important game for us to qualify for the trophy final.”
Despite carrying plenty of momentum into the trophy final against Poland – a side featuring a number of Group Seven products – Mackey’s side fell just short.
“We had watched Poland play throughout the tournament and knew they were a very classy side,” Mackey said.
“They had great ball movement and kept the ball in play for most of the game.
“We started slow, trialling 14-nil at half-time.
“But from the first set of the second half it felt like we were on top.
“We had a late surge and got it back to 14-10.
“We were in great attacking position in the last few minutes of the game but unfortunately couldn’t capitalise.
“The end result was pretty heartbreaking but everyone performed well on the day and it was an awesome game of footy.”
Looking back on it, Mackey acknowledges this was an experience he will cherish forever.
“We have had our sights on this tournament for a couple years and for a lot of us it was the most important games of footy we had ever played,” he said.
“It was awesome to be in a two week camp together with the boys who are all so passionate about their culture and rugby league.
“I haven’t played so much footy back-to-back since high school – it was great.
“After playing three games in a week, I had learnt a lot about recovery.
“From a personal point of view, there were a few moments throughout the tournament were I was pretty filthy on myself.
“These Tests mean a lot to me and whenever I play for my heritage, I try to set the bar higher.
“A couple of defensive moments I wish I could have again.
“But overall I’m pretty happy with how I played.
“I managed to bag a couple tries and the feedback from the coaching staff and the senior players was all really positive.”