2017 Shute Shield Season Preview: Southern Districts
Southern Districts looked on track to win their first Shute Shield premiership last year after they beat a star studded Randwick side in the opening week of the finals, but an error riddled performance against eventual premiers Norths ended the Rebels season one week early.
Matt Barr has retained the majority of last year’s squad for his 2017 campaign and has recruited some exciting talent that could help end the premiership drought at Forshaw Park.
Last year: Preliminary final (2nd) 13 wins, 68 pts.
Ins: Paul Asquith (Melbourne Rebels), Jamason Faanana-Schultz (Queensland), Jamie Verran (New Zealand).
Out: Dewet Roos (Brumbies), Waldo Wessels (Parramatta), Sean Doyle (sabbatical), Mitch Walton (Navy).
Overview with Matt Barr:
“We had another strong season at Souths, it was the highest any first grade side has ever finished and we were only one win off being minor premiers so there were a lot of positives but we were certainly disappointed with how the season ended.
“We had a good win over Randwick in the opening week of the finals but then we were disappointing against Norths and they went on to win the competition.
“In the last five years, we’ve played in two grand finals and three preliminary finals so we’ve been consistently up there competing but we now need to use the experience we’ve gained from past seasons to move forward and win that elusive premiership.
“Since January we’ve had all of the top squad training consistently together and we’ve never had that in the past. Usually guys trickle in during preseason but this year we’ve had the group together for a while now.
“By the end of last season we felt that we needed to be stronger and fitter so we’ve hard on our strength and conditioning over summer. The boys have been in the gym a lot.
“We’ve also worked on our structures, we want more clarity and detail around those. We’re not talking about massive changes, we just need to improve from last year in a number of areas and hopefully that will help us turn those late season losses into a premiership.
“Paul Asquith is back from the Rebels. He’s a great player who adds a lot of versatility to our side and he captained the Rams last year so his leadership will be great for us.
“We’ve also picked up a guy named Jamason Faanana-Shultz. He’s a No.8 from Queensland who has been invited down by the Waratahs, he looks really fit and strong. Then we’ve got Jamie Verran from New Zealand, he’s a No.10 or 15 who has been really impressive during preseason.
“There are no excuses now. Last year we thought we had the side to win the competition but unfortunately mistakes cost us in that game against Norths.
“We’ve just got to learn from that experience. We’ve now got a playing group that has been together for a number of years, so we’ve got to use our disappointments as motivation and move forward.”
Key areas of improvement:
“We just want to improve on the structures that we’ve got in place. Earlier this week we had a team run for our trial match this weekend and where we were 12 months ago compared to where we are now, we’re leaps and bounds ahead.
“Now it’s a matter of building on 2016 and working on the clarity and detail around those structures which weren’t quite there last year.”
What are your hopes and expectations for the season?
“We want to be up there fighting for the minor premiership. It’s quite a significant advantage to finish in that top two so that’s where we want to be.
“From there, I’d like to think that we’ve learnt from our past experiences and we’re now ready to go on and win that elusive premiership.”
Player/s to watch:
“Jamason Faanana-Schultz, our new No.8 from Queensland, we’re expecting a lot from him.
“He’s big, strong guy with lots of potential and I think he’ll come into his own this year.”
Who will your team play in the grand final?
“Last year was the closest competition in a number of years. Norths came from the middle of the competition the previous year and won it the next, so maybe someone could be ready to do the same this year.
“I think the first six weeks will give us a good indication. I expect the traditionally stronger clubs to be up there again but I’m expecting a few of the teams from the middle of the ladder last year to pounce and really make things difficult.”