2017 Shute Shield Season Preview: Eastern Suburbs
Eastern Suburbs scored four tries or more in 15 of their 18 matches last year but lost seven games by a converted try or less and fell just short of a finals berth in 2016.
After leading second grade to last year’s grand final, Craig Morrison takes over as head coach in 2017 and appears eager to turn his Beasties into a ruthless, winning machine.
While they’ll be without Super Rugby recruits Jack Maddocks and Alex Newsome this year, Australian U20s standouts Mack Mason and Ryan McCauley will add plenty to a talented and hungry Eastern Suburbs squad.
Ins: Mack Mason (Reds, Aus U20s), Tom Pincus (UQ), Joe Pincus (UQ), Tom Sheminant (Perth Spirit).
Outs: Jack Maddocks (Rebels), Alex Newsome (Force), Steve Findlay (Scotland), Ragu Tagive (overseas), Josh Toole (rugby league).
Overview with Craig Morrison
“We’re still a fairly young squad in some respects, but we’ve got some good leaders so I think there is a good mix there,” Morrison said.
“Last year, Easts lost a lot of games that they should have won. They weren’t far off the finals but unfortunately that’s been the story for Easts in recent years. Not far off the pace, but not good enough to beat those top teams consistently and we need to change that.
“We need to give our guys an edge so that they can win the games that they should have won last year.
“Those eight wins could have easily been 10 or 11, maybe even 12 and that really hurt them at the end of the year. They earned four try bonus points in a ridiculous amount of games last year, so we know they can score points, we’ve just got to tighten up our defence and I think that comes down largely to fitness.
“We’ve picked up Mack Mason who has been training with the Waratahs. He played in the trial against the Brumbies in Mudgee so I think he’ll give us some good game control, plus he’s a great goal kicker.
“Although we’ve lost a couple of key guys, we’ve retained really well and I think the guys that we’ve bought in will fit into the side nicely.
“Plus we’ve got quite a few good young players coming through from colts. That’s been the focus over the last few seasons and we’re starting to see those guys filter into grade this year. Guys like Ryan McCauley, he’ll play under 20s but will come back to us later this year. Cody Walker is a good prop in the NSW U20s squad, Ted Pye captained our colts side last year, Archie Hall, Ned Yeomans, they’re all good young players and I think that’s the best way to build a club.”
Key areas of improvement:
“We’re looking to be fitter than we have been in the past. Everyone will say that, but I think there were games last year where our first grade side just couldn’t match their opponents towards the back end of the game and that makes it difficult to win.
“I’d like us to play more football. We’ve got good structure but in the past, we haven’t taken our opportunities enough so we need to change that. We need to up our skill level so that we can take our opportunities when they arise.
“They’re simple things, but I think the basics are where we’ve been lacking.”
Player/s to watch?
“Rowan Perry and Tim Buchanan were both very good for the NSW Country Eagles in the NRC last year. Tim has a little bit more experience that Rowan, he’s a little bit older but they are both quality players. There are a lot of good young backrowers but Rowan is right up there with the best of them, he has enormous potential.
“I’m also interested to see how Tom Sheminant goes. He played NRC with Perth last year as a 20-year old so I think he’ll go well.”
“Archie King had a great year at flyhalf last year and I think he’ll continue to develop. We’ve also got Mack Mason so we’ll need to decide if we play one of them out of position, but I think they’ll both be crucial and somewhat determine how we go this year.
“Charlie Clifton is probably our most experienced first grader. Tom Merritt and the Pincus boys will give us a lot of speed out wide and Fergus Lee Warner and Clarrie Moore are now into their third year in grade so I think we’ll see a lot of improvement from them.”
Expectations for the season?
“We want to win the competition. There’s no point going into a season with any other goal and that’s the mentality we need to have at Easts.
“I think in the past, we’ve been too comfortable with just competing rather than going out there to win.
“We’re not setting benchmarks to please ourselves, we want to win the whole thing.”
Who will your team play in the grand final?
“I think Uni will be right in the mix. Norths will back up again but I think they might find it a little tougher this year, they’ve lost quite a few players. I expect Randwick are probably a little disappointed with their recent performances as well, so I think those three teams are probably the ones to beat.
“Manly will be up there, Warringah have a lot to prove and Eastwood will want to bounce back after a disappointing year last season.”