Sharks open season with newfound hope

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It seems to happen every year around this time. Just as spring is about to sprout, the Montauk Rugby Football Club finds itself reborn and the spirit of the 35-year-old club soars with new signs of life.

With skies showering rain one minute and sun the next, the Sharks’ proven corps of creaky, but reliable veterans led an impressive group of brash young talent to a 56-10 victory over Newport at Herrick Park on Saturday afternoon. It was the club’s first home game since failing to complete the fall schedule last year due to a lack of player participation.

Montauk coach Paul Cleary said on Saturday that the current batch of young players might be the most dedicated and talented group of newcomers to come along in years. He and several other Montauk veterans said the youth movement has resulted in one of the most powerful forward packs in team history.

Led by the Kelly brothers, Daniel and Sam, Steve Daige and the bruising duo of Paul Jones and Mike Delalio, the Sharks’ forward pack was able to control the action from start to finish against the Rhode Island team Saturday.

But, as has often been the case in the past, it was the old steady hand of experience that truly led the way for Montauk. John Glennon, Nick Finazzo and 52-year-old Burt Wiegand were instrumental in Montauk’s attack up front, allowing the Sharks to control possession of the ball on scrums for much of the afternoon.

Chris Carney, a veteran of almost 20 years, filled in for the injured Andy Reilly at scrum half and scored two of the game’s first three tries. Jay Short, another experienced back, also scored twice in the early going as the Sharks raced out to commanding 24-0 lead.

Minutes before the first half ended, the Sharks scored their fifth try of the game, demonstrating why they might be one of the most dangerous teams in the Met Union this fall. Ryan Borowsky, a veteran with good speed and even better moves, dropped a quick pass to 23-year-old winger Liam DeFronzo, who sped past the Newport defense from midfield to put Montauk on top, 31-0, at the half.

According to Cleary, that combination of experience and youthful athleticism is exactly what Montauk needs to make a run at regional and national titles this fall.

“We played against a weak squad today, so let’s not kid ourselves,” said the coach, who over the past decade has seen the club through good times and bad. “Last year we were folding because of a lack of players and now we have 23 or 24 guys, so it’s great.”

As the second half began on Saturday, some of Montauk’s veteran players moved to the sideline and allowed younger players like DeFronzo, Steve Turza, Garret Cutler, Jamiel Charlton, Ricardo Salmeron, Nick Dombrowski and Sean Gallagher to shine.

Jones, the young and powerful forward who played in high school before recently returning to the club, barreled in for a try early in the second half and was followed closely by DeFronzo’s second try of the game. Daige, Borowsky, Turza and Dombrowski also scored in the second half, capping an impressive offensive performance.

“All of our old players are back, and now everybody’s teaching each other,” said Jones, who was covered from head-to-toe with mud and sweat after the game. “We’re meshing much better this year.”

One of the older players that Jones spoke of is Wiegand, the club’s hooker and elder statesman who played every minute of Saturday’s contest, smashing shoulders with Newport’s forward pack all afternoon.

“I guess nobody wants to play my spot,” Wiegand joked on the sideline. “I’ve been working out and I feel great. That was a fun game today.”

Cleary is hoping for better competition in the future as the club tries to line up more games during the spring to prepare for the more structured fall campaign, which ultimately leads to postseason Division II tournaments sponsored by the Met Union and USA Rugby.

Gordon Trotter, one of the club’s leaders, said Montauk will play the New York Athletic Club’s “B” side on Saturday in New York and is also looking to organize a re-match with Newport in Rhode Island in the coming month.

The next home game will be played the weekend before Memorial Day against the Village Lions in Herrick Park.

“We’ve got great local support, and we always have,” said Cleary, who thanked Riverhead Building Supply for donating a brand new equipment shed to the club. “It’s a pretty simple game when it’s played well. You need speed and size, and we’ve got both. Hopefully, we can keep this thing going.”

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