2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: Southern Districts

After dropping their first five games, Southern Districts never found their best in 2018 and finished two wins short of a spot in the playoffs. 

Still searching for an illusive premiership, the Rebels have had a changing of the guard over summer with coach Matt Barr and a number of big names moving on.

Former Edinburgh and Scotland A forward Don Mackinnon has taken charge at Forshaw and is looking to build a more resilient Rebels outfit capable of breaking their premiership drought.  

Overview with Don Mackinnon:

“It’s really exciting to be back coaching at the club. I spent some time here quite a few years ago then I’ve spent the last few years coaching colts and we’ve had 32 of those boys move up into grade this year so it’s an exciting time for the club,” Mackinnon said. 

“Matt Barr and Jim Williams did a great job coaching Souths for a long period of time and we’ve been pretty successful during that period. Unfortunately we just were successful at the right time of the year. 

“If I had to point to anything, I think the guys maybe struggled to hold onto the ball at times when things didn’t go their way and that may have cost them at crucial points of key games. In saying that, they’ve been a bloody good side for a number of years now so it’s exciting to get a chance to work with them. 

“We’ve lost a handful of guys from last year, so it’ll be a bit of a new look side but that just creates opportunities for some new guys to earn a spot alongside some very good and experienced first graders. 

“We’ve also been lucky enough to welcome some really quality coaches to the club. Joe Barakat has joined us after spending the last few years coaching at the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force. He’s an old Southern Districts boy and was one of the club’s first captains. 

“Then Jai Ayoub has also joined us after he finished up playing at Eastwood. He lives down this way and runs his family business in Miranda so when we heard he was retiring, we reached out to see if he wanted to get involved. Jai has an incredible understanding of the game and he knows what it takes to win a Shute Shield competition, having done so with Eastwood several times in recent years. 

“I don’t want to call it a rebuilding stage because everyone at the club wants to succeed and win. We’ve been the bridesmaid on too many occasions over the past few years and that’s not good enough so as a group, we want to take the next step. 

“At the same time, we also want to be nurturing the young players at the club and build depth for the years ahead.”

2018: Seventh (9 wins)

Ins: Jake Kay (West Harbour), James Hasson (rugby league), Mack Hocking (Drummoyne).

Outs: Eli Pilz (Queensland), Rohan Saifoloi (Queensland), Alex Perez (Queensland), Rowland-Keni Kotabalavu (New Zealand). 

Key areas of improvement:

“The biggest thing we’ve worked on has been our skills. We need to be able to maintain our skill level for 80 minutes under fatigue and although I hate to say it, that’s something that the New Zealand sides do really well.

“A lot of it is pretty simple stuff, but it needs to be done right and it needs to be done for 80 minutes and if you can do that, then you’ve really just got to play what’s in front of you.”

Player(s) to watch: 

“Young Daniel Bell has come up from colts and looks really sharp in the backs. He’s lightning quick and can play anywhere in the backs and if you give him a yard or two, he’ll take it and make you look silly. 

“When you’ve got great centres like Denny (Godinet) and Apo (Latunipulu) who know how to break the line, you really just need players to run off them and that’s something he does very well. 

The other one is Nathan Lawson, who is still a colt and in the Australian U20s squad. He played No.6 for us in our trial against Illawarra on the weekend and scored four tries on debut, which isn’t a bad effort.” 

Hopes and expectations for the season:

“We finished seventh last year and missed out on the finals but if you look at a handful of key stats from last year, based on those we ranked second overall.

“I think that shows that we just fell away at crucial periods of the game on too many occasions last year and it cost us, so that’s the first thing we need to fix. 

“The expectation is that we make the finals and from there, anyone can win it. We expect that of every side in the club in both grade and colts because we want to give ourselves a chance to win premierships.”

Who will Souths play in the grand final? 

“I really don’t care,” Mackinnon said bluntly.

“Sydney Uni are probably the team to beat based on last year. I think Gordon will be the big improver with DC in charge. He’s recruited well.”

“But to be honest, I really don’t care because as long as we’re there, we’ll be right in the match.”

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