2017 QLD Premier Rugby Season Preview: Sunnybank
After scraping into the finals, Sunnybank looked dangerous in last year’s playoffs but fell just short against UQ, losing 32-31 in the preliminary final.
Damon Virtue has lured former Reds and Rebels back Richard Kingi back across the ditch and added further experience to his young squad, as Sunnybank look to extend their season by a week this year and bring some silverware back to the club.
Last year: Preliminary final (4th) 8 wins, 46pts.
Ins: Richard Kingi (Tasman – ITM Cup), Dave Henaway (Brothers), Bronson Fotualii Tauakipulu (Wests/Samoa A), Ritchie Ah Chong (North Harbour – ITM Cup).
Outs: George Blomfield (Cambridge University), Matt Feaunati (UQ).
Overview with Damon Virtue
“We had a really young side last year so it was great for those guys to get a taste of finals footy and hopefully they’ll learn from that experience and we can go one better this year and make in into that grand final,” Virtue told rugby News.
“We were a little bit inconsistent throughout the season in 2016 and that’s something we want to change this year. We let a few games slip that we shouldn’t have and we need to avoid that if we want to be there at the end of season.
“We’ve worked really hard on getting our guys in better shape this year. We’ve got a great S&C coach and he’s done a superb job with the boys, they’re in really good knick at the moment.
“We also want to be more effective with our set piece and defence so we’ve worked on that over the summer.
“Numbers have been really strong and we’ll actually field an extra side this year. The new players have all been superb. We’ve had a few old heads join the club and they’ve added a lot of experience. We’ve also picked up a few guys who have played at the next level so it’s been great to add them into the environment.
“We probably are floating under the radar a little bit, but I like that. I’m glad everyone is focussed on the other sides and not on us, we’re just going about our business quietly.
“Although we’ve got plenty of confidence within our group, we all know that the competition is going to be a lot tighter this year and I think any side will be able to win any match on their day.”
Key areas of improvement:
“Our attack has traditionally been our strength over the years but we’ve had issues with our ball control as part of that. We want to build phases and build pressure and ball control is crucial if you want to do that.
“We also want to be a lot more effective with our set piece. We’ve got some big guys this year so we want to use that size and put some pressure on our opposition at scrum and lineout time.
“Accuracy is key in the bigger games, particularly at the business end of the season, so we need to be really clinical when it matters.”
Player/s to watch:
“I think both our halves will have big years – Issac Fines-Leleiwasa and Jake Strachan. Everyone knows what Issac can do and Jake played some NRC last year so I think he’ll take plenty of confidence from that. He’s only a young kid but he’s got massive potential.
“Brendan Mitchell also played NRC, but he didn’t get as much time as he would have liked. He’s our forward leader and another key guy for us. Then obviously Junior Laloifi is our x-factor out wide.
“We’ve also got Issac Lucas who has massive potential. He’s made waves in the trials and has been picked up by the Aussie youth Sevens team so I think it’s a matter of time before he plays Premier Rugby.”
What are your hopes and expectations for the season?
“Obviously we want to play finals footy, that’s massive for us, but we also want to perform consistently across all grades. We want our Premier and reserve grade sides to be in the hunt at the end of the year. Our colts have also been strong over the last few years so we want all of our teams to be successful so that we can have a real dig at contesting that Doughty Shield.
“For our Premier side, if we make the finals I think anything can happen. All the sides are very even at that point of the year and it comes down to who is better on the day.”
Who will your team play in the grand final?
“Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Brothers but I’m really wary of Souths this year. They’ve recruited really well and I think they’re a bit of a dark horse.
“A lot of the clubs have recruited pretty heavily so all the games this year will be a lot tighter. If you’re not on your game on any given day, you’ll get rolled this year, whereas in years gone by, some sides have been easy to put away. I don’t think that will be the case this year.”