2018 Shute Shield Season Preview: Sydney University

After falling just short against Northern Suburbs in the 2016 Shute Shield decider, Sydney Uni were uncharacteristically inconsistent last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

Club stalwarts Tim Davidson and Tom Carter stood down at the end of the season, giving new coach Rob Taylor a chance to inherit a young Students squad with plenty of up and coming talent.

Overview with Rob Taylor: 

“I’ve been happy with our preseason. We haven’t played as many games as we have in the past and that’s given us more time to take a breath really and focus on a handful of certain areas. We’ve just given ourselves a bit more time to cover off what we feel we need to do before we get into the grind of week to week matches,” new coach Rob Taylor said.

“We had a group head over and tour Japan. It was a volunteer tour, I didn’t go myself, but it was an opportunity for guys to put their hand up regardless of what grade they played and the guys that did go over had a fantastic experience. It’s something we’d like to do again in the future.

“Looking at last year, it was a bit of a rollercoaster. There were some great performances, then some disappointing and frustrating performances. I think first grade ended up using something like 55 players across the season. The standards we set at Sydney Uni are pretty high and we want to be reaching them consistently and that probably didn’t happen last year.

“It’s impossible to replace guys like Tim Davidson and Tom Carter. You look at the records they set at the club and you wonder if they’ll ever be surpassed. Tim and Tom both certainly knew what it took to win a Shute Shield competition and it was great for me to be able to work alongside them both for the past few years and learn from them.

“They are irreplaceable but in saying that, we’ve had a fairly smooth transition over the past two years and now I’m able to put my own spin on things ahead of this year. It’s almost a bit of a blank page for the club after those two left after 18 years at the club, nothing will change in regards to the standards and expectations at the club, but it is a bit of a new page for us really.

“One thing the club has always done well is to learn from what has worked for our sides in the past and that’s certainly the cornerstone of my coaching philosophy. There won’t be any dramatic changes, it’s really just about adding to what they were doing and then putting my own spin on things. You never want to forget what has made this club successful though.”

2017 result:

Ins: Stu Dunbar (overseas), Jack Sherratt (New Zealand), Amos Pagia (New Zealand).

Outs: Christian Kagiassis (Southern Districts), Tom Carter (retired), Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies), Jock Merman (overseas).

2018 captain: TBC

Key areas of improvement:

“Consistency is going to be really important for us. There were times last year where we played great rugby in defence or attack or at set piece, it’s really just about doing it week to week, when we’re at home and when we are away,” he said.

“Every year we’re trying to do things a little better, whether that be in defence or attack. We know that we are very capable of performing well and competing against the top few teams in the competition, it’s just about doing it every week.”

Player(s) to watch:

“Obviously we’ve got a few guys on the fringe of Super Rugby, guys like Harry Johnson Holmes and Lachie Swinton. I think you’ll also see the emergence of a few guys who may or may not make the Aussie 20s side this year. I think you’ll see Josh Kemeny feature in first grade quite a bit this year, he’s an exciting backrower. Alongside him, you’ve got Rory Suttor and although they’re both still eligible to play colts, I think they’ll play quite a bit of grade,” Taylor said.

“In the backs, the likes of Guy Porter and Tim Clements will be interesting to watch. They both played a bit of first grade last year and I think they’ll be better for it. We’ve also got a three way battle for the halfback spot with Theo Strang, Banjo Travers and Daniel Calvassy. It’ll be really interesting to see who puts there best foot forward this year.”

Hopes and expectations for the season:

“It’s really pretty simple, we want to win the Shute Shield and win the club championship, then you kind of work your way back from that,” Taylor said.

“Club championship always comes first, that’s our most important goal but the Shute Shield is a very close second. Every week we’re playing to win.”

Who will Sydney Uni play in the grand final this year?

“It’s a tough question. You’d think Warringah will be right up there, with a settled squad and coaching staff. I think out of a very tight group, they’d be favourite to be there but overall, I’m pretty open minded and I haven’t really thought too much about that.

“I’m expecting nearly a Shute Shield final every week in this competition, the quality is fantastic and everyone is stepping up. I don’t think there will be many easy games. It’s hard to pick an out and out favourite, but if you had to pick one, it would have to be Warringah.”