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Woes continue for Green Rockets following Blake Ferguson sacking

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

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Green Rockets Tokatsu have got their 2022 Japan Rugby League One campaign off to a dud start to cap off a dire week headlined by the sacking of ex-NRL star Blake Ferguson.

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Six days after Ferguson’s contract with the club was terminated due to his arrest for suspicion of cocaine possession, the Green Rockets were pumped 33-12 in their season-opener against the Yokohama Canon Eagles in Kashiwa on Saturday.

The opening weekend defeat comes after the Green Rockets opted to forge ahead with the match in spite of Ferguson’s arrest and subsequent sacking, which came before he had even played a match of rugby union since switching from rugby league.

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Kobelco Kobe Steelers vs NTT Communications Shining Arcs | Japan Rugby League One
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Kobelco Kobe Steelers vs NTT Communications Shining Arcs | Japan Rugby League One

The decision to continue to play the fixture as scheduled was one made in stark contrast to previous incidents where players in Japan were embroiled in drug scandals.

In those instances – such as the arrests of Joel Everson, Steven Yates and Ryota Kabashima for similar offences in 2019 and 2020 – the clubs of those respective players, and even the league as a whole, had fixtures suspended in a mark of seriously drug-related matters are taken in Japan.

To the surprise of some, though, the Green Rockets issued a statement on Wednesday outlining their intention to play the Canon Eagles, who eventually cruised to victory at Kashiwanoha Stadium.

Headlined by Brave Blossoms stars Yu Tamura and Amanaki Mafi, as well as former Wales lock Cory Hill, the Canon Eagles thrived even in the absence of star Springboks midfielder Jesse Kriel.

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No 8 Mafi crossed for one of his side’s three tries in typically rampant fashion off the back of a scrum midway through the second half.

His try was complemented by tries on either side of half-time, the first of which was scored loosehead prop Takate Okabo on the back of a well-worked lineout move, while fullback Jumpei Ogura scored the other from a cracking counter-attack instigated by wing Chihito Matsui.

First-five Tamura, meanwhile, ended the match with a personal tally of 18 points with an unblemished goal-kicking record of seven from seven.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Green Rockets, though, as the hosts ran in two tries of their own to add some respectability to the scoreline.

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Former Chiefs, Crusaders, Gloucester and NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes fullback Tom Marshall was key in both tries, the first of which he set up with a pinpoint cross kick for wing Hiroyuki Miyajima to latch onto and score from near the end of the first half.

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In the dying stages of the second half, Marshall then weaved past a few defenders to help set substitute Kentaro Kodoma away forĀ  scintillating run which broke the defence apart and allowed Brave Blossoms star Lomano Lemeki to stroll on through for a try.

Lemeki, normally a wing or midfielder but played in the No 10 jersey, added the extras with the ensuing conversion attempt, but that mattered for little as the Green Rockets are now anchored to last place on the Division 1 standings at the end of round one.

The Green Rockets will, however, be handed a reprieve next weekend as the side’s scheduled opponents, the Saitama Wild Knights, will forfeit the match amid a Covid outbreak within their squad.

That outbreak already cost the reigning champions, led by former Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans, their opening match against the Kubota Spears, who were awarded a bonus point win for the Wild Knights’ default.

The same outcome will reportedly be afforded to the Green Rockets, enabling the club – whose director of rugby is ex-Wallabies boss Michael Cheika – to lift itself out of the relegation zone.

Elsewhere throughout League One, All Blacks playmaker Damian McKenzie began life in Japan with a 25-point haul against the Toshiba Brave Lupus, while ex-Wallabies star Israel Folau marked his return to rugby union with two tries for the Shining Arcs.

Yokohama Canon Eagles 33 (Tries to Takate Okabo, Jumpei Ogura and Amanaki Mafi; 3 conversions and 4 penalty goals to Yu Tamura)

Green Rockets Tokatsu 12 (Tries to Hiroyuki Miyajima and Lomano Lemeki; conversion to Lemeki)

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