2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: Sydney Uni

In his first year coaching the top grade, Rob Taylor did what most considered impossible. He picked a backline of young stars fresh out of colts, mixed them with some experienced and talented forwards and won a Shute Shield premiership. 

This year, the Students find themselves in a similar situation with a host of big names moving on. 

But if history tells us anything, it’s that Sydney Uni know how to replace talent and if they can do so up front, they’ll be hard to stop again in 2019. 

Overview with Rob Taylor: 

“It was a great season. We started the year quite well and then had a few bumps in the middle but I think we improved in every game from that point on, then had somewhat of a dream performance in the grand final,” Taylor told Rugby News. 

“We really just focussed on one match at a time. We had a very young and new team and we were trying to play a new way as well and introduce a lot of new concepts so we really didn’t know if it was all going to come together. 

“We had players come and go throughout the year and they all added to the way we played, then fortunately we were fairly settled leading into and during finals.

“Similar to last year, we’ve had a pretty decent turnover of players but this year it’s in the forwards. We’ve got a lot of returning backs from last season but a number of forwards have moved on. It’s the opposite to what we had last year. 

“At this time last year we had Tolu Latu, Paddy Ryan, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Lachie Swinton, Brad Wilkin and Chris Talakai all playing from us and they’re all elsewhere this year, so we’ll have some big changes in our forward pack and need to fill a lot of spots. 

“We’re sort of back to where we were at this time last year starting from scratch. It would have been nice to have the same team and see what we could achieve together with another year but that’s never the case when you’re doing well. 

“We went on a tour to New Zealand earlier this year and played against the Highlanders development team. Most of their All Blacks actually played the first part of that game, which was fantastic to be a part of. 

They all stayed around after for Boat Races and beers. The halfbacks were chewing the ear off Aaron Smith, the fullbacks were talking to Ben Smith and the wingers spent time with Waisake, so it was a pretty incredible experience. We also played against the Crusader Knights in Christchurch so it was a great learning experience for our guys and showed them where the bar is set. 

“We’re confident that we’ve got the players at the club to be successful again. If you look at last year’s grand final team, 21 of the 23 had played colts at the club, which we were really proud of. 

“The Uni way is to look within to fill gaps and we’re sticking with that this year with some exciting young guys pushing into grade from colts.”

2018: Premiers

Ins: None 

Outs: Paddy Ryan (USA), Brad Wilkin (Melbourne Rebels), Rohan O Regan (England), Stu Dunbar (Melbourne Rebels). 

Key areas of improvement: 

“Consistency is probably the big one. As I said earlier we had a few bumpy periods at the start and during the middle of the season where we weren’t doing enough good things on top of other good things. Whether it’s technical, at set piece, in our starter plays. We want to always be working to produce good stuff on top of good stuff. 

“By the end of last year, we had a fairly solid game all round but that wasn’t the case for most of the year so we’d like to be more consistent in 2019.”

Player(s) to watch: 

“Josh Kemeny and Rory Suttor both played for the Australian U20s last year and both have lots of potential. They’re both loose forwards who we coached in colts so I’ve seen a fair bit of them and they’re just really good athletes. They are fast and fit, tall and lean and I think both of them should push through to Super Rugby and hopefully the Wallabies one day. 

“That are just hungry, keen, young athletic guys who are chomping at the bit to get a crack in first grade.

“Rory trained with the Waratahs over the summer. He’s a 6’3, 107kg open side flanker who has an unbelievable motor on him. He could be a middle distance runner if he wanted to.”

Hope and expectations for the season: 

“We want to do things in ways that make our fans and supporters proud. Whether it’s our physicality, our skills, our execution, we want our supporters to be impressed with how we perform week in week out. If we do that, the results will take care if themselves. 

“Club Championship always comes first at Sydney Uni, then we start looking at championships when it gets to the business end of the season. 

“It starts with the performance, then we look at the club championships and after that we then focus on individual premierships.”

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

“I think Norths are a very good team on paper and they’ve shown that over the last few years. They’ve got a host of fringe Super Rugby players and I don’t think anyone should be surprised to see how well they they this year. 

“Easts have also recruited really well and they are very well coached. 

“There’s also been a lot of coaching changes so we’ll see a lot of enthusiasm in clubs like Gordon, Randwick and Souths, so those teams will come out of the blocks firing. 

“I’d have to say Norths are the team though.”

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