2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: Northern Suburbs

Northern Suburbs fell agonisingly short of playing in their third straight Shute Shield grand final last year and have handed the reigns to 30-year old rookie coach Nick Hensley ahead of the 2019 season. 

The Shoreman are another side who will likely benefit from Super Rugby’s earlier finish this year and will be tough to beat if they find themselves anywhere near the top of the ladder around mid season. 

Overview with Nick Hensley: 

“I’m really looking forward to coaching Norths in 2019. The players have welcomed me back to the club, having coached a season here before, so there’s been some familiar faces but it’s also been nice to meet a lot of new guys that have joined the club since 2016,” Hensley said.

“You can certainly see why the club has had plenty of success in recent years. They are very self motivated and driven and their attention to detail is great. 

“I think they went pretty well last year. They were one play away from a grand final and they had beaten Sydney Uni earlier in the year so I think you’d call it a pretty good year. They were very well prepared but perhaps a few lapses in concentration cost them at times. 

“We’ve put a fair bit of time into our set piece and we’ve recruited a few guys in that area. We’ve tweaked a few things in attack and defence but we’ve maintained a lot of what they’ve been doing for the last few years. Obviously that’s been working for them but you still need to evolve in little ways. 

“It’s always a huge bonus when you get contracted players returning to play club footy. You hope for their sake that they are getting picked to play, but if we get them then I’ll gladly welcome them into the team. Throughout preseason we’ve had a number of guys involved with the Emerging Waratahs so that’s been a little disruptive, but great for the individuals. 

“Our preseason numbers have been really strong. From what I understand, we’ve had a strong turnout from guys in the mid and lower grades that traditionally haven’t trained as much earlier in the year, so that’s really positive. I think we’re in a good spot.”

“Personally, it’s exciting to get this opportunity. I’ve coached or played with a few of the other coaches in the competition, which is a little unusual but also really exciting. I really do hope they all have great seasons. I just hope Norths go a little better.”

2018: Preliminary finalists

Ins: Andrew Tuala (West Harbour), Devon Stoltz (Randwick), Jack Lindsay (New Zealand). 

Outs: Irae Simone (Brumbies). 

Key areas of improvement: 

“Set piece is an area that the players identified they wanted to be more consistent in. They were good at times but had some lapses and they want to eliminate that from their game. 

“In attack, we’d like a little more clarity when we’re down the business end in our attacking 22. We need to make sure we’re finishing off our opportunities when we get down the right end of the field. 

“We also want to add a little bit of variety in the way we train and play. We’d like to add a little bit of unpredictability to our game so that we’ve got a few more weapons in our arsenal that we can tweak week to week and use at times throughout the year.”

Player(s) to watch: 

“Nathan Russell been really good so far this year. He’s an outside back who had an injury disrupted season in 2018 but he’s looked really good throughout preseason and played well in our trials,” Hensley said. 

“Hugh Sinclair has been really good. He’s obviously a regular player to watch in the Shute Shield and I think he’ll continue that this year. 

“George Miller looks like he’s in for a big year. He was eligible to play colts last year but played most of the year in grade. He’s a great young player who’s very similar to his older brother Will. He gets through a huge amount of work and just goes about it quietly.

“Andrew Tuala is the other one. He’s come to the club from West Harbour and had some exposure in the Waratahs system this year already. Physically, he looks lean and he’s put on a lot of lean mass, so I think he’ll be really good for us. Sam Kitchen, another one of our props has also had a good preseason.”

Hopes and expectations for the season: 

“I want to win the comp,” Hensley said bluntly. 

“I want the players to get better and by the end of the season I want them to feel as though they’ve had some sort of evolution in their individual games.”

“I’ll also really be driving our focus on the club championships this year. I almost feel it’s the most important trophy in Sydney rugby because it’s the only thing the club can win together. I’m not sure if it’s been an area that the club has spoken about a lot in the past, but that’s something I’d really like to drive.” 

Who will Norths play in the grand final this year? 

“I think Easts will be really good. They’ve got a lot of good quality talent and a lot of their guys are in the Waratahs system, but may not be on the field for the Tahs regularly. 

“Sydney Uni are always going to be there and I think Eastwood have recruited well and had strong trial form. 

“From those three, I’d probably pick Easts but there will probably be a bunch of other sides in contention as well.”

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