2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: West Harbour
After a brilliant start to 2018, the wheels came off at West Harbour mid way through the season, which saw the Pirates fall just short of an illusive finals berth.
The club then had some well publicised off field issues and lost their coach to Super Rugby.
But things have turned around according to new first grade coach Mark Gudmunson, a veteran player and coach at the club, and the new look Pirates seem confident that they’ll be competitive again in 2019.
Overview with Mark Gudmunson:
“It’s been a long apprenticeship and a lot of work but I’ve absolutely loved my time at West Harbour and I’m really excited to get the change to coach first grade,” Gudmunson said.
“I’ve been at the club since I left school so I’ve spent a big chunk of my life here. I’ve forged lifelong friendships, I’ve been in wedding parties, been to family events, watched kids grow up and come into the program.
“The Alaalatoa boys and Jack Debreczeni used to be the ballboys down here back when I was playing first grade and now they’re playing Super Rugby so I’ve had a pretty amazing journey at this club already.
“Unfortunately we almost had to start from scratch this year after a big turnover of players. From last year’s starting XV, I’ve got one player returning so we’ve had to reinvent things a little bit.
“Obviously there was some bad publicity around the club’s financials but I think that was blown out of proportion quite a bit. Regardless it still did some damage.
“That’s something that has been sorted now. The club has money in the bank and we are moving forward. We’ve got great facilities and we’re working hard to earn back the reputation that a club like this should have.
“We need the whole club to be moving in the right direction and obviously first grade plays a big part in that. We’ve focussed quite a bit on first grade obviously but the entire club has to be the priority. We’ve been training grade and colts together up until the last few weeks and we want to keep the club together as much as possible.
“I’ve got no doubt that West Harbour can be a successful club again. We’ve got a lot of great people here, a new board and a new coaching staff so there’s a bit of a fresh feel to the place at the moment.
“As I mentioned earlier, we’ve got a largely new playing group across the grades and they don’t know a lot about the past and what has happened. They just see what is happening now and at the moment, things are looking really good.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but everything is heading in the right direction.”
2018: 7th (9 wins, 1 draw, 8 losses)
Ins: Francis Ieremia (Samoa 7s/Newcastle), Tiaan Swanepoel (South Africa), Tyler Fisher (South Africa, Noah Cooper (Northland), Tavite Gadeisuva (Northland), Andrew Vatuvei (Two Blues), Amos Viiga (Two Blues).
Key area of improvement:
“We’ve got to be an 80 minute team. West Harbour have been known as a side that will go at you for 60 minutes, then if things aren’t going right, they’ll fade away in the last 20.
“That’s something we’ve really been focussing on so strength and conditioning has been a big part of our preseason.
“We’ve also worked a lot on our basic skills. We’ve bought back Stephen James, an ex Wallaby and West Harbour player who has been working with our backs a lot, so it’ll be exciting to see some improvements there.”
Player(s) to watch:
“I think our two South Africans Tiaan Swanepoel and Tyler Fisher will have a pretty positive impact.
“I’m also looking forward to watching Dion Spice and Rhys Brodie. They’ve both stuck around from last year and I think they’ll be in for big seasons.
“Then we’ve got James Turner who has come up from our colts program and has spent some time with the Aussie 7s fringe squad. He’s a fullback or winger with fantastic feet and great turn of speed. He’s a real finisher.”
Hopes and expectations for the season:
“As a coach, you’re always looking at finals footy and it’ll be interesting to see if we can get there this year with this new side. That’s got to be the goal.
“We’ve been the side that has just missed out over the last few years, so we’d like to change that.”
“We’ve lost a lot of players but the guys who have joined us have been really impressive so far and seem really committed to the club.
“We need to be competitive in all grades. We’ve had some blowouts in lower grades in the past and we want to make sure that we can match it clubs all year, even when they’ve got guys being pushed down the grades after their Super Rugby players return.
“Our colts were disappointing last year but we’ve recruited a few guys to our program that I think will be really good for the club this year and in the years to come.”
Who will West Harbour play in the grand final?
“It’s a tough question.
“Looking at recruitment, Eastwood obviously look like they’ve got a really strong team with ex West Harbour players Tayler Adams and Enoki Muliufi in there.
“Easts also have a lot of Waratahs fringe players that are going to come back to them at some stage so they are probably the two teams I’d have to say.”
Feature Image: JB Photography