The Fours Report: Cronulla

On Saturday the 5th of January, the Beach Water Polo Fours team headed to Bundeena at the crack of dawn, back to where it all began. With a high of 32 degrees at 9am, all twelve teams were eager to hit the water, many for the first time under our unique playing conditions.

For the women’s competition, the Cronulla Gals & Angels Gone Bad appeared the early favourites and with a wealth of current Australian Water Polo League experience, they were always going to be strong contenders. Rounding up the women’s competition were five teams sent from Sydney University, in full preparation for their upcoming Australian Youth Club Championships next week. Whilst the young girls certainly gave the favourites a run for their money throughout the round games (and the competition organisers a few headaches with their similar team names), it would be the Cronulla Gals and Angels Gone Bad who would face off in the Grand Final for their name on the coveted Beach Water Polo Fours trophy.

The Open Mixed competition saw four teams compete for the title.  With teams from a range of playing abilities and water polo experience, the teams who took advantage of our rules would prosper come finals time. With international experience and Olympic power couple Nicola and Johnno Cotterill, the Beaches Plus Ones would always be clear front runners from the moment they registered. An unknown threat to the title were Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. Comfortable in the saltwater conditions, the team had a strong swimming background and an extended squad to call on given they also provided water safety all weekend.

Taking on these two teams would be the Irukandji Stingers and the Stingers Predators. Formidable water polo players in their own right but most importantly a great bunch who didn’t let a few games of water polo get in the way of a great day at the beach. The Irukandji would take bragging rights over the Predators on the field, and go on to be eventual runners up against the star studded Beaches Plus Ones. It was the first Fours event for our three runners up, but they were quick to learn the rules and even quicker in sharing the same positive attitude and love towards the game and a great day out at the beach.

As the change in the wind brought the temperature down, the action in the water heated up. A packed beach was treated to an exhibition of water polo throughout the day. The women’s final was tight and, with each team winning a half, it was time for a penalty shootout.  With the stakes high, the banter from the sideline placed extra pressure on the shooters and the goalkeepers in what was long day in the sun. The final also saw two Olympians and legends of the sport, Maureen O’Toole (USA) and Mel Rippon (AUS) face off for the Fours cup, a coveted asset for their respective trophy shelves. While we are all about introducing new people to the sport, we are always chuffed to have amazing players like Mel and Maureen enter the water with us. With the help from the rest of the Angels Gone Bad, the team were able to dig deep and walk away as the Open Women’s champions.  

The overnight weather change had participants searching for ski jackets and umbrellas on the second morning of Beach Water Polo Fours Cronulla. The air was fresh, but the competition was hot with 12 open men’s teams turning up ready to battle it out for the Cronulla champions title.  

A number of teams took the opportunity to prepare for the upcoming Australian Youth Championships, with some of the Albion Sharks making the 5 hour trip to Cronulla while Five Live Series were able to get some more Instagram content for their followers. In preparation for the championships, Bite Me and Bite Me Too had club coaches Chris Batty and Pat Northam put their money where their mouths were to join the teams in the water for the first time.

The BBBB Barbarians, on the other hand, skipped their weekly gate 8 meetup and made some strategic team changes from their 2017 debut for their chance at redemption in 2019. After losing their star goalkeeper Pat Northam, Molly Quinn tried to pick up the pieces by implementing the very effective attacking ploy of being a girl, and simply freaking out the boys.

By the end of the day, players were busy booking Corey Sainsbury’s jet ski uber for rides to the Beach Water Polo Fours pontoons, where they would then enter the water and start the game. Why they couldn’t just swim the 10m themselves, we will never know.

While Michael Rosenthal played for the Royal Loyals, he proved he was anything but, also captaining the South Beach Barracudas and switching between the teams throughout the day. Beach Water Polo Fours Founder Scott Nicholson however, wouldn’t let Rosie hedge his bets to the more successful team, disallowing Michael from joining the Royal Loyals in the grand final. While the team even went as far as making plans to take the winning trophy to The Royal Hotel, one too many failed powerplays got the better of them in the game that mattered most.

You might not be able to choose your family, but the Gilchrist boys showed their family bond was too strong, with the father and sons trio holding the trophy high at the end of the day. Joining their team Shire Pies was Rhys Holden, proving doctors wrong by returning to water polo for the first time since undergoing four hip surgeries and being advised to never play again. Although we are sure these boys would be smiling no matter what, the team’s flawless substitutions and powerplays during the grand final had them walking away as grinners.

A massive thank you to everyone that came out to Bundeena for our second event at this amazing location! Let’s not forget our incredible partners, sponsors and suppliers for all their help in making the weekend the great success that it was – Actuex Sport, Delfina, Packaworld, Kap7, Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club and Sutherland Shire Council.

Emma Brown