2017 QLD Premier Rugby Season Preview: Souths
By Michael Atkinson
Souths had a major resurgence in 2015 – under then head coach, Brett Picone – coming from fourth on the ladder to take out the premiership in emphatic fashion in the grand final over Minor Premiers Easts, 39-12.
They couldn’t go back-to-back in 2016, eliminated by Sunnybank in week one of the finals however they were still a force to be reckoned with, finishing equal with eventual premiers Brothers on 11 wins after the home-and-away rounds.
Picone has moved on from the head coach role, passing the baton to his assistant Elia Tuqiri. The former G.P.S and Reds flyer has a natural attacking rugby mind, but his identification that the Magpies needed to stiffen their defence has fans and foes alike wondering what heights this team can soar to in 2017.
That, and the mouth-watering list of new recruits who’ve landed in the nest at Chipsy Wood Oval. If the flock of players at Tuqiri’s disposal are anything to go by, it could be a matter of everyone else playing for second this season.
Last year’s result: 3rd (11 wins, 5 losses)
Ins: Lukhan Tui, Nicko Bueta (Brothers); Davis Tevita (Perth Spirit); Caleb Timu (Sunnybank); Mike Tafili (Auckland); Steve Hunt (GPS); Loveni Anari, Jake Newell (Wests); Emori Waqa (Fiji 7s); Jake Milne (return from injury)
Outs: Andy Muirhead (Brumbies); Isireli Nasairani (Force); Levi Aumua (Japan); Johnathan Kalauta (retired)
Coaching team: Elia Tuqiri (Head Coach), Van Humphries (Set piece and Collision), Moses Raulini (Defence)
Captain: Paul Brown
Overview with Head Coach, Elia Tuqiri:
“This is my first year as head coach. I’ve learnt a lot from Buzz (former head coach, Brett Picone) over the last couple of years and it’s made it a smoother transition” Tuqiri said.
“It’s been pretty positive (the preseason). We’ve worked really hard on our skills.”
“We’ve improved in both trials, but because of the depth of players, we’ve tried to give everyone a crack. So, we’re coming close to narrowing our team down this week, but we’ve still got a couple of injuries so hopefully that will be right for next week.”
“Because of all the new inclusions – we lost three or four handy players but we’ve maintained a lot of them – we’ve got a lot of depth and it’s filtered down to fourth grade” Tuqiri said.
“So, I said to the boys, ‘There’s a lot of spots up for grabs.’ We’ve got one more trial this week, so whoever puts their hand up will put themselves in a good position to start round one.”
“I think (the competition) is really up for grabs” declared Tuqiri.
“If you look at the teams who finished lower last year – Wests, Norths and even Easts – they’re the ones who’ve recruited really well through the off season, so there’s going to be no easy teams throughout the season.”
“We played Wests two weeks ago and they looked promising, and I understand they’ve still got a few guys to come back.”
“Norths also, we played them last week, they’ve done a lot of recruitment so it’s quite open at the moment and the competition is up for grabs, for sure.”
Key areas of improvement:
“I think an area we’ve tried to improve is our defence” revealed Tuqiri.
“In the last two years, we’ve always had a pretty good attack record but our defence has let us down and that was more around attitude than anything. So, we’ve worked hard and that’s why we’ve got Moses (Raulini) as our defensive coach to work hard on our attitude and defence.”
“We’ve put some standards around that and a theme around the defence. The boys came up with ‘protecting the Nest’, so we’ve really driven the mentality of taking pride in our defence.”
Player/s to watch:
“You’ve probably heard of Jake Milne: he’s back” declared Tuqiri.
“He started with us two years ago, played round one and did his knee. He’s been out for almost two years. He’s worked really hard over the off season and has really impressed in the last two trials. He’s got a massive boot and good skills so (we’re) really looking forward to seeing him continue.”
“We’ve got Liam Roberts, another young guy from the Queensland 20s last year. He’s trialling well.”
“In the forwards; Paulo (Leileisiuao). He’s been outstanding in terms of trial form. He’s worked hard in the off season, and physically he’s looking really good and scrummaging really good.”
“I’m definitely expecting some big things in 2017 (from those guys).”
What are your hopes/expectations for the season?
“We’ve found ourselves in the top four the last couple of years and obviously won the premiership two years ago, we’ve got high expectations because of that and with the players we’ve got, nothing short of top four is the expectation” said Tuqiri.
Who will your team play in the grand final?
“I think Sunnybank looks like they’ve retained a lot of their guys and they’ve got some sharp halves there, who are quite young” said Tuqiri.
“All the other clubs are getting new players, but they (Sunnybank) look like they’ve kept a good lot of their players so I think they might be a showing (for the title).”
“But you know Uni has a whole depth of players so I expect to see them and Brothers somewhere, but I think Sunnybank will give it a good shake.”
“I think a dark horse, I honestly think, will be Jeeps” declared Tuqiri.
“I know Matho (Anthony Mathison) is a very good coach and they’ve got the Perth Spirit connection there, so I think they’re one to watch as well. They’re like us two years ago. You never know what could happen there.”