2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: Eastern Suburbs

Eastern Suburbs returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last year but couldn’t match eventual premiers Sydney Uni in the latter stages of their clash on the opening weekend of the playoffs.

Despite that, the Beasties were easily one of the competition’s biggest improvers in 2018 and with a similar roster back on deck in 2019, Easts will like their chances of playing deeper in the Shute Shield finals series this season.

Overview with Pauli Taumoepeau:

“It took a while to get back into things actually. For the majority of the playing group, it had been a while since they had played so deep into the season so it took a while to get our numbers and quality up, but it’s been really positive since then,” Taumoepeau said.

“Our systems are fairly similar to last year, so I feel like it’s been a pretty seamless preseason.

“We also had a group of players tour the UK and Hong Kong late last year. They played some really quality games and had an absolute ball off the field and that’s what footy is all about. I think the club is planning a major tour every second year, then another trip every other, which is fantastic.

“Looking back at last year, I definitely think we exited earlier than we could have. It was great to return to the playoffs for the first time in a while, but we’re not after moral victories and I think we should have played deeper into those finals.

“We were beaten by a very good Sydney Uni side who went on to win the competition but with some better coaching and better execution, I think we could have gone further.

“Oddly enough, I think the belief in our group probably reached its heights in the sheds after that semi final loss at Uni. The guys were gutted but almost straight away the focus turned to next season and what we can do to make sure we don’t have this feeling again.

“Last year we had all seven teams play finals, then we had three teams in grand finals with two winning. We know we’ve still got a long way to go but I want to turn 2018 into a quiet year for Easts.

“If you look at Sydney Uni, they won first grade but they only had one team in the grand final and everyone sort of looked at it as a quiet year for them. The expectation is that they win a number of premierships every year and that’s what we want at Easts.

“There’s a long way to go but I think we’re on the right track.”

2018: Semi Finalists (Lost 21-13 to Sydney Uni)

Ins: Charlie Campbell (New Zealand), Sam Shires (Manly).

Outs: Rowan Perry (retired), Connal McInerney (Brumbies), Tom Keft (Robertson).

Key Areas Of Improvement: 

“We’ve been working on our transitions into both attack and defence. We got punished quite a bit in those areas last year and I think that comes down to urgency obviously, but more so vision and game understanding.

“I spent a lot of time going through game situations with guys one on one. A lot of the time when you ask a player what they are thinking in certain situations, they don’t have an answer and that’s something we’ve looked to fix.

“Set piece is the other area we’ve worked a lot on. Our line out really struggled when we lost Connal (McInerney) to the Brumbies but we’ve spent a lot of time working on that.

“Then obviously our scrum cost us in key moments last year and we’ve plenty of time improving that area of our game.”

Player(s) to watch: 

“I don’t know how much we’ll see him but Cody Walker is in for a very big year I think.

“He’s ready and he showed that playing for the Emerging Waratahs last week against Auckland. He just had this look in his eyes on the sideline and as soon as he went on in the second half, he snapped two blokes in half, then made a line break which led to a try and he looked really fit.

“He’s spent a few years in the Waratahs system now and I think he’s ready to take the next step.

“Charlie Campbell will also be one to watch. He’s a hard, on the ball No.7 and to be honest, he’s quite a similar player to Rowan (Perry). He came through the Canterbury system in New Zealand, then moved to Australia last year, played Subbies and won their Subbies player of the year.”

Hopes and expectations for 2019: 

“Obviously we’re playing to win.

“I thought I was quite a processed driven coach up until last year but I realised I probably got that a little wrong.

“We’ve spoken a lot about the processes so far and all the hard work you need to put in to get to the end goal, but the end goal has to be to win.”

Who will Easts play in the grand final?

“It’s got to be Sydney Uni. They’ll have a young team again but Rob (Taylor) just has a way of getting the best out of players and I think he’ll do that again this year.

“They went on a two week tour of New Zealand and they probably didn’t get the results they wanted on the field, but I think more importantly, they got to spend two weeks together as a group focussing on rugby full time. The amount of detail you can get in during that time without all the usual distractions is huge, so I think they’ll start the year very well.

“It’s going to be a tight comp again, unfortunately. You try and find easy weeks or easier games and there aren’t really any anymore. But it’s great for the competition and good for rugby so it should be another big year.”

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