2019 QLD Premier Rugby Season Review: Sunnybank

Like several of the Premier Rugby teams that missed the finals in 2019, tight five issues here Sunnybank this season.

The Dragons missed the playoffs but showed glimpses of potential when they were able to get their best side on the park. We caught up with Evan Willis to dissect this year’s campaign.

Photo: Brendan Hertel/QRU Media

Overview with Evan Willis:

“If we look at the positives, we’ve got six Sunnybank boys playing NRC this year and that’s great recognition for those boys but if you look at the season, we ended up second last and that’s not where we wanted to be,” Willis said. 

“We did finish on a high however, beating Bond to win the Bunter Bowl in the final round. 

“I think the biggest issue we faced this year was a number of tight five players not returning from the previous season. 

“We had Moli Sooaemalelagi injure his knee and we didn’t expect to be without him for most of the season. Nathan Den Hoedt headed to Sydney to join the Waratahs then we lost a few others and that really stretched our tight five depth and I don’t think we ever overcame that this season.

“Later in the year we had Dave Faoe and Josh Afu come out of retirement and they gave us set piece dominance and we started to get some results. Then it was no coincidence that when a guy like Brandon Paenga Amosa played, we had victories over Wests and Bond Uni. Those guys really do make a big difference. 

“When we beat Bond in the last round to win the Bunter Bowl, winning away like that showed what we could achieve when we performed at our best. 

“But on the other hand, there were a handful of games like our match against UQ. They beat us at home 22-19 and it showed that we could mix it with the top sides but we just lacked that little bit of polish to win the games we needed to win to finish higher up the ladder. 

“As a group, I think we realised that while it’s all well and good to be a great attacking team, we need that polish and discipline in defence to match it with the best teams and contend for a title. 

“I think we also learnt that you can’t beat class and we saw that when guys like Issac Lucas and Brandon came back at times throughout the season. It’s great to have talent like that at the club.”

Which non contracted player deserves to play at a higher level? 

“I’m thrilled to see Dillon Wihongi playing NRC with QLD Country. He played No.7 rather than No.8 on the weekend and he probably feels like he’s a little out of position but I think he’s got the skillset to do it and do it well. 

“The other guy who has been on the radar for a while is Liam McNamara. The Reds named him on the bench once this year although he didn’t get on but I’m hoping he has a big NRC in a slick Brisbane City side and goes on to bigger and better things.”

What needs to happen at Sunnybank between now and round one next year?

“Our main focus is retaining the majority of the group from this year because we’re confident that we’ve got the talent, we just need to get them fit and on the field. 

“I’m actually not going around again after 15 odd years of coaching Premier Rugby. The club is going through a recruitment phase at the moment.

“They’ve actually recruited Doug Titchens, the nephew of Sir Gordon Titchens. He’s come through the Manawatu system in New Zealand and is joining Sunnybank as Director of Rugby next year. I think he’ll bring a new level of experience and professionalism to the club.”

Bold prediction for 2020: 

“It’s a bit of a default answer to say that Uni, Brothers, Jeeps and Easts will be up there again next year but I think clubs like Sunnybank will be right up there in the top four next year and give it a good crack.”

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