2015 Shute Shield Season Preview: Part Three

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY, RANDWICK, EASTERN SUBURBS & NORTHERN SUBURBS

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY, RANDWICK, EASTERN SUBURBS & NORTHERN SUBURBS

by Paul Cook –

Our final look at the runners and riders this year covers a Sydney University side seeking to return to the Shute Shield’s summit; an NRC coaching duo preparing to outdo each other at club level with Randwick and Easts respectively and last, but by no means least, how another first time head coach, Simon Cron, is setting the bar high at Norths…


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SYDNEY UNIVERSITY with Chris Malone

Last Season’s Ladder Placing: 3rd – 68pts (Semi-Finals)

Ins: Chris Chapman (returns from overseas); Tom Coolican (Easts); Michael Hodge (Waratahs); Matt Philip (Manly); Angus Roberts (Rebels); Jake Wainwright (Balmain); Liam Winton (returning from injury)

Outs: Tom Boidin; James Dargaville; Dan Kelly

Captain: Tom Carter

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Losing in a Shute Shield semi-final to the last kick of the game would be an understandably painful, but at the same time admirable, achievement for most clubs in hindsight. But for a side that has practically set-up camp on Grand Final day over the last decade, winning nine of the previous ten Premierships, Sydney Uni’s failure represented a much relished backwards step in the eyes of their competitors. However, given the absence of their usual raft of superstars at the business end of the competition, combined with an inordinately debilitating injury toll, the feeling from inside the Students camp is that it was a valiant effort and a valuable exercise in terms of growing the next wave of Uni champions. With Tom Carter returning from a brief retirement to lead the side and former partner-in-crime Tim Davidson assuming the role of forwards coach, Chris Malone believes his side are ready and hungry to resume their mantle…

Overview:
“The story that everyone else would like to tell about us last year is that Uni didn’t make the Grand Final for the first time in 10 years. But ultimately, we got very close and were very close to having seven grade teams out of seven in the Grand Final. Considering how much of a hit we took to our depth in terms of injury, it was a really outstanding achievement. I thought it was a great effort in the sense that a lot of those players were probably thrust in there before they were ready. It was obviously disappointing that we didn’t get there but the experience that these young blokes got, and then for some of them to back up in the NRC with the Stars, was invaluable. Going through that last year taught us some good lessons and accelerated totally what they were able to achieve, particularly individually, but also as a team and as a club this year.”

Key Areas of Improvement:
“A big thing for us is trying to keep a core group of players on the field. It’s something we had the year before when we had the likes of Tom Kingston, Greg Jeloudev, Tom Carter and Tim Davidson every week. Eastwood were able to roll out virtually the same team all year until the Grand Final last season, when they copped some injuries in the semis, and it makes such a big difference. We’ll still be blooding young blokes and pushing a lot of exciting youngsters through but it’s really important for those guys to have that experience around them as well.”

New Sensations:
“Matt Hood – A young fullback coming up from colts who I’m really excited about.
“Nathaniel Deans – Talented backrower who played in the 4th Grade Grand Final last year. One to watch.”

Hopes/expectations for the Students in 2015?
“The big one for me, and it always is, is being strong across the club. I know traditionally, Uni haven’t finished in the top spot in the regular season in 1st Grade, so that would be a nice target, but if we can get into the top three going into the finals, that would be handy. Good people that are around the club want to come back and get involved and to have a guy like Davo on board with his experience is terrific. The boys have got three coaches (Malone, Davidson and attack coach Peter Playford) and a captain that have some experience in the game so I hope we can impart some of that knowledge onto them and turn them into better footy players at the end of the year because that’s what we want them to be.”

 

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RANDWICK with Shannon Fraser

Last Season’s Ladder Placing: 6th – 48pts (Qualifying-Finals)

Ins: Tom Coupland (Gordon); Auvasa Faleali’i (Country Cockatoos); Eni Folau (Rugby League); Dashville Kuate (Cameroon); Peter Nau (Country Cockatoos); Patrick Phibbs (UK); Lotu Talakai (NZ)

Outs: Tim Donlan; Sione Kolo; Alex Walker (retired)

Captains: Mark Baldwin and David Horwitz

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An iconic name in Australian sport, let alone rugby, Randwick have spent the last few seasons effectively forced to live off former glories as they faded away from the upper echelons of Sydney club rugby. Shannon Fraser, the man charged with restoring the good ole’ days at Coogee Oval is – whisper it softly – an outsider, purportedly the first head coach to take the reins with no previous affiliation to the club. But armed with a CV that boasts the Waratahs, Fiji, Japan, the US and more recently, the NSW Country Eagles in the NRC, he certainly has the runs on the board to make good on his intentions for the club’s future. Inheriting a squad with a sprinkling of serious talent and a burgeoning strength in depth thanks to the groundwork laid by his predecessors, expect the attack minded coach to have the myrtle greens back in full gallop at a ground near you in 2015…

Overview:
“Clearly there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes over the last few years, however the results on field have been inconsistent and below the expected standards set by those who have previously worn the jumper. There’s no doubt Randwick have been underachieving, which is one reason I jumped at the chance to get involved. I love a challenge, that’s one of my main motivations to coach. The other reason I’m excited about working with the Wicks is that I assimilated to the brand I guess. My background is as an attacking style of coach, which fits very well with the way the club want to play. It’s part of my DNA as a coach to play with that expansion, play without restraint and don’t fear failure. The pre-season has been a lot of hard work for the guys in adapting to a new level of intensity, accuracy and expectations but I’m confident the group are in a better place than this time last year. They’ve bought into the philosophies and principles we’ve put in place and I think we’re going to see them excel, not just individually but collectively, and that may be one of the big differences this year to last year, a collective buy in, and I think you’ll see that come through, especially in tight games.”

Key Areas of Improvement:
“Let’s not beat around the bush – the skills were poor – so we’ve consciously focused on building a bigger base in relation to the fundamental skills, thus allowing us to then play the game without restraint. Additionally, we felt we’d lost our physical edge. We’d possibly put too much emphasis on the attacking side of the game and lost a bit of an appetite for that defensive physicality. That’s certainly something we’re addressing with our off-field culture by creating a hard-working group with a hard work ethic. They’re probably the two main areas we identified that needed urgent attention and have been at the forefront of where I’ve tried to take the program.”

New Sensations:
“Auvasa Faleali’i – An outstanding scrum-half who has the capacity to break open a game. Strong runner of the ball and a well rounded positional skill set.”

“Chris Taripo – An outside back who’s come to us from league and shown some real skill. It’s now about getting him ‘rugby-fied’ and up to speed with the ins and outs of the game but we’ve certainly seen some strong first impressions.

“Latu Latunipulu – Younger brother of Sam and Apo at Souths. A young fella currently eligible for colts but we’ve been using him in grade and he’s as good as any 18-year-old centre I’ve seen.”

Hopes/expectations for the Galloping Greens in 2015?
“Winning is important, I won’t tiptoe around that, and finals footy is non-negotiable. We need to be up in that half of the ladder and I’m pretty confident with the way that we’re shaping up, on and off the field, that we’ve got a group that can do that. But it’s equally important that we continue to keep moving forward. ‘Be better than we were last week but not as good as we are next week’ – that’s our mindset for the year. Continued growth, continued improvement through the year and let results look after themselves but we certainly won’t be playing to avoid losing, we’ll be putting it out there and playing a brand that I think the Coogee public will be pretty excited to see. We want to see as many people fill the stands as possible and be excited about the way we’re playing again.”

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EASTERN SUBURBS with Darren Coleman

Last Season’s Ladder Placing: 9th – 32pts

Ins: Daniel Arona (Penrith); Kyle Baillie (Canada); Rhys Brodie (Sydney Uni); Angus Brotherton (Central West/Orange); Charlie Clifton (returning from injury); Ryan Dalziel (West Harbour); Sevaro Domoni (Northern Suburbs); Will Fay (returning from injury); Jake Ilnicki (Canada); Sione Kolo (Randwick); Rodney Ma’a (Parramatta); Michael Mate (Penrith); Robbie Mate (Penrith); Kotaro Matsushima (Japan/Waratahs Squad); Jarome McKenzie (Penrith); Sean Meaney (rugby league); Clarrie Moore (returning from injury); Angus Pulver (Sydney University); Oliver Saunders (Japan); Josh Toole (Rugby League); Tyrone Viiga (Penrith); Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith)

Outs: Cooper Chapman; Tom Coolican; Tim Duchesne; Darcy Etrich; Michael Fakava; Harry Hosegood; Luke Irwin (retired); Bill Johnston; Anton La Vin (retired); Phil Mathers (retired); Richard Stanford (retired); ; Keleti Vaingalo; Sam Windsor; Ed Woodgate

Captain: Sam Stitcher

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2014 was a tough year at the office for Eastern Suburbs. Crippled by injuries, a severely disrupted pre-season also left them very much behind the eight-ball for much of the year and despite a gradual improvement and the unearthing of some fresh new talent, memorable victories over both Eastwood and Manly proved to be false dawns as they slipped to a lowly 9th on the ladder. Recruitment has been the keyword for Darren Coleman in the off-season, the Director of Rugby taking up the 1st Grade baton and enlisting by far the greatest influx of new signings in Sydney club rugby. But while the new faces offer plenty of promise, gelling them all as a team will be perhaps Coleman’s biggest challenge. With veteran Beasties in the shape of Anton La Vin, Richard Stanford and Phil Mathers hanging up the boots, a lack of experience will also need to be managed. Coming in off the back of a successful first year leading the NSW Country Eagles, Coleman is ready to rip in and take it all head on…

Overview:
“We had to improve our playing depth and quality. We lost a lot of guys and last year, in the last few rounds of the competition, we were struggling to put out four teams, which was a bit of a low point for Easts from their usual high standards. I’ve been reasonably aggressive, as much as you can in the Shute Shield but it’s a funny one, guys who committed back in October get a change of circumstances and they’re not here now and conversely, you get high quality players roll in off the streets from time to time when you least expect it. Of the 40-50 new guys we’ve got at the club, I reckon I actively knew of and chased about 15 of them. I’ve got no doubt we’ve got good, exciting young players here but experience, particularly in the forwards, we’re going to be a bit light on. We’ve been busy off the field too, embellishing our coaching team with specialist coaches; acquiring a new medical team; the construction of a new gymnasium; positive additions to the club’s board and building our University Scholarship scheme. We may not be up with Uni or Randwick just yet on that front but are confident our football program will rival, if not be of higher calibre, than any other Shute Shield club. These are much bigger factors in the clubs attempt to rebuild than the new players that have joined us.”

Key Areas of Improvement:
“We had a weak scrum last year so we need to get that right. Also consistency, Easts had some really big wins at home against Manly and Eastwood in 2014 and then had some terrible losses too. But perhaps the biggest thing I’ve focused on has been a change of culture. We’ve really implemented some tough rules here around how we practice and what time you arrive at practice etc. Having some increased depth in a lot of positions now means that in a situation where blokes don’t conform or don’t communicate well, are not training or are late for training, I’ve got other options. Your hands are tied if you have no-one else to put there so as much as the depth improves your results in lower grades, it should also improve your 1st Grade too.”

New Sensations:
“Fergus Lee-Warner – He’s a second rower who’s come up from colts and I’ve been super impressed with him. He’s had a big off-season, he’s mobile, fit and just a real workhorse.”

Hopes/expectations for the Beasties in 2015?
“I think it’s a realistic goal to shoot for the playoffs. I think we’ve got enough depth now to win enough games to get into that top six and if we get there, anything can happen. From 9th last year, that would be a big step forward but we’ve also got to make sure we improve our club championship position as well.”

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NORTHERN SUBURBS with Simon Cron

Last Season’s Ladder Placing: 11th – 25pts

Ins: Lochie Creagh (Colts); Tim Duchesne (Easts); Michael Fakava (Easts); Josh Kay (Colts); Sape Misa

Outs: James Cunningham (Warringah); Nick Lah (retired); Scott Podmore (retired): Michael Wells (Aussie Sevens)

Captain: Ben Matwijow

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It seems a long time ago now that Norths were only one game away from what would have been a first Shute Shield Grand Final since 1998. But since that day in 2012, when the Shoremen went down gallantly in the Preliminary Final to eventual champions Sydney University, what appeared to be the promise of a new era at North Sydney Oval quickly fizzled back into mid-table mediocrity and culminated with last year’s nadir – 11th place and only four wins to their name. Returning to the Red and Blacks on a mission to restore them to finals contention at the very least, is the ambitious and driven Simon Cron. Having forged a hugely successful Sevens program in his first stint at the club, the former Christchurch High School Old Boys captain spent a year honing his craft as an assistant at Easts last season, before grasping the opportunity to return and run the show himself for the first time. It could be just the injection Norths require…

Overview:
“When you come into a club, there’s one or two ways you can go. You can recruit a thousand guys and therefore, you’re a good recruiter and if they play well, then you don’t have to coach them too much. Personally, I think you recruit for positions that you feel the club is missing and then you coach the guys in the other positions – that’s your job. You’re supposed to make people better rugby players. I could be a full-time recruiter and have great teams but ultimately, there’s no longevity to that as a club, it’s a very short-term approach and it can be a cycle that is difficult to get out of. Knowledge wise, I’m extremely comfortable with what we’ve got to do and how we’re going to do it and the best thing about this year is actually taking charge of the pre-season. We’ve been working on a lot of ball skill stuff and basics and up-skilling our players with real simple things like improving our ability to pass, from props through to wingers. We want to make it a people’s game so that a father can bring his kids to come and watch and there’ll be some things in the pipeline this year that allows people within Northern Suburbs and the Norths area to come to games so we can connect better with our local community and excite people about rugby. That’s a role we need to play in safeguarding the future of the game, particularly at grassroots level. People don’t just come to a sport, they’ve got to want to be involved in it and that’s something we should be looking at as a club, and we are.”

Key Areas of Improvement:
“We’ve implemented new structures in attack and defence. I felt Norths have been a little predictable in their forward attacking patterns and therefore, it’s been easy to get line speed on them, so, for us this year, it’s about making the opposition defence think. If we make the defence think, we stop them coming in and being able to get a strong, solid shoulder on us and that’s a lot to do with what we’ll be coaching this year. For us, defence wise, you’ve got to want to tackle. That’s a mindset thing and a connection thing, you need to connect inside and out otherwise you can’t keep lines peed if you can’t trust your inside shoulder. It comes down to fitness and work rate and the coach making sure the players get the recovery required in between games to keep making those big hits.”

New Sensations:
“Josh Kay – A flyhalf with a very good temperament and the right skills. He’s coming along well and will be really pushing for that 1st Grade spot.”

Hopes/expectations for the Shoremen in 2015?
“My personality type is to win, end of story, so, if at the end of the year we haven’t won it, I will be losing sleep. I think if yourself as a coach or your players don’t aim for that, you’re wasting your time, so everything we do is about winning. Some coaches have a tendency to say ‘I’d love to be the top side’ and that’s great because it saves your job or whatever at the end of the year but personally, I think the club’s board and the people that watch the game will determine what’s successful for them but as a coach and as a playing group, being no.1 is successful, anything else is just for also-rans.”