2017 Shute Shield Season Preview: Gordon
After just missing the finals in 2015, there was plenty of optimism at Chatswood Oval heading into the 2016 season but a horrific run of injuries quickly crippled the club’s performances in all four grades.
Looking to put an 11th place finish behind them, new coach Mark Philp and the Gordon board have put some short and long term plans in place to stop the player drain from the North Shore to other clubs around Sydney as they attempt to rebuild the Highlanders back into a dominant Shute Shield force.
Last year: 11th (2 wins)
Ins: Mark Johnson (returning), Callum McKenzie (Eastern Suburbs), Bill Freeman (Randwick), James Holden (Eastwood), Michael Kennedy (Sydney Uni), Fergus Mitra (Penrith).
Outs: Tui Tuisavaii (Warringah).
Overview with Mark Philp:
“We were nowhere near as successful last year as we would have liked to be.
“You don’t want to make excuses but we did have a horrific amount of injuries, particularly in our tight five and that made things really difficult,” Philp said.
“The atmosphere has definitely changed at the club though, there are more guys who played and were successful at Gordon in the past coming back to the club, both players and supporters so that is really promising.
“Last year there were 62 Gordon juniors playing first grade at other clubs, which is quite a staggering figure.
“I’ve come from working at the ARU as a development manager so one of my focuses is to create really strong links with the junior clubs and schools in our catchment area so we can stop that drain going forward.
“We’ve just started a seven-week development program with our village clubs for junior players of all abilities from the U10s through to the U18s and they are training with the Gordon coaches and players. It’s a massive focus for me and for the board to reconnect the Shute Shield club with the juniors.
“We’ve got a fantastic strength and conditioning coach Carl Goodman and he’s been working with a group of about 60 guys since September last year, so I think you’ll see an improvement there.
“Our on field training started in November and we based that around competitive touch competitions where we changed the rules every two weeks to keep the guys on their toes.
“From January, we focussed on our contact and now we’re working really hard on our shapes and our patterns, we’ve done a lot of work in our units and the tackle contest has been a big focus.
“In our top three grades, we’ve got roughly a 90-95% retention rate from last year, which I’m really pleased about. We’ve also got 18 colts from last year returning to play grade as well.”
Key areas of improvement?
“Getting over the gain line and set piece were our two main issues last year. We’ve worked hard to rectify that.
“We’ve got a lot more depth in our tight five this year and we’ve been running scrum clinics since November. Our lineout was quite good so we’d like to maintain that.
The big thing for us is securing first phase ball and getting over the advantage line and we’ve done a lot of work in those areas so far this preseason.”
Player/s to watch:
“I think a few players will have breakout seasons this year. We’ve got a young No.10 Jared Dowie from Melbourne, he’s looked really sharp so far and has put his hand up for that starting jersey. Through injuries we’ve had probably six or seven No.10’s in first grade in the last two years and that’s not ideal for continuity, so it would be great for someone to put their hand up and own that position.
“In the forwards, Jordy Goddard, Ruairidh Wilson, Mark Johnson, we need those guys to have big years.
“We’ve also got a new hooker Fergus Mitra who has been training the house down.
“I’m quite happy that we don’t have one or two particular stand out players, we’ve got a lot of good rugby players who together, I think will produce a really good squad effort.”
Expectations for the season?
“A successful year would see us set some foundations for 2018 and onwards. I’m not trying to dance around the fact that we need to win games, but I’m not going to focus on how many matches we win or lose at the moment.
“Even with all of our injuries last year, we were competitive in most of our games for long periods. We just need to stop playing well for 20 minutes and find a way to string some consistency together, that’s our focus.
“We’re not going to turn everything around overnight, we’ve got to be realistic about that, but I would like to see us continuously get better.
“I do expect us to win far more games than we did last year though and I think we can be very competitive in first grade all season.
“I think our lower grades will go really well. Having 54 players play first grade last year sounds horrific, but it now means that a lot of those guys now have had a taste of high level footy so when they go back to second or third grade, it’s going to be really positive. They’ll take that experience and knowledge back with them and boost the players around them.”
Who will your team play in the grand final this year?
“I would love to play a side like Norths or Warringah. I think it’s going to be really hard for Norths to sustain the success that they had last year, it’s always hard to back up but I think they’ll be in the mix again.
“I think Warringah are probably the bolters. If I had a cheeky $10, it’d probably go there way.
“It’s always worrying when Southern Districts are quiet. They’ve got a great coaching staff and a good GM and the fact that they’ve stayed so quiet worries me a little. I’d suggest that they’ve recruited quite well.
“Eastwood and Sydney Uni will be strong but I think Norths, Warringah and Souths are probably the three sides to beat.”