2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: Western Sydney Two Blues

A new name, a new facility on its way and a relatively new look playing and coaching group. There’s been plenty of change over summer for the Western Sydney Two Blues. 

Former Sydney Uni hooker Joel Rivers has taken charge out west after coaching stints at both Uni and Norths and with the help of former Norths lock Ben Matwijow, will look to help the Two Blues live up to their potential in 2019. 

Overview with Joel Rivers:

“There seems to be a renewed energy around the place and it’s nice to come in and not start at ground level, but really be able to put a stamp on things our way as a new coaching group so we’re all really excited about that,” Rivers told Rugby News. 

“The rebranding to Western Sydney Two Blues also gives the place a bit of a fresh feel and I think everyone at the club is excited about the opportunity of representing the Western Sydney region as a whole. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s exciting times at the moment. 

“We took things right back over summer. I haven’t seen a lot of the guys play and probably half of the playing group are new to the club this year, so we’ve gone back and worked on a lot of basics. Things like catch and pass, getting running lines right and working on their ability to transfer the ball across the field. 

“Then we’ve worked on our defence and a lot around the breakdown. We’ve been trying to explain to the guys why we’re doing the things the way we’re doing them so that everyone improves their rugby knowledge. 

“Traditionally, Two Blues sides have wanted to offload the ball, they want to run and be expansive so we’ve tried to add skills and set structures around that to suit that style of play. 

“I think the playing group has really bought into what we’re doing. Numbers have been good over summer and the guys were dying to get on the field to play trials, which is always a good sign.

“It’s crucial that we’re successful because we are the only club in this region now and there is so much talent out here. If we want to continue to grow rugby, we need to be able to represent the huge amount of people that live in western Sydney. 

“It’s tough out here because it seems to be a lot easier for guys to play league than it is for them to play union. There’s less travel, or they can fit it around work better so I think it’s really important that those players that want to play rugby have somewhere to go where they can develop as a player in their own backyard. 

“We want guys playing quality rugby within their own community. Playing in front of their families and alongside their mates. They shouldn’t have to travel to the other side of Sydney to get a shot at playing good rugby. 

“At this stage, we’ll be in our brand new facility by this point next year and that will be fantastic. It’ll be great to be able to run everything out of a central location and I think everyone is looking forward to that. 

“We’ve got a young group and while out trial form has been good, that doesn’t mean much. We’ve certainly got plenty of size across the grades, we just need the guys to be consistent and to continue to learn. If we can do that, then I think we’ll be successful across all grades.”

2018: 10th

Ins: John Folau (Waratahs), JP Sauni (Waratahs), Joseph Faoagali (Penrith). 

Outs: Jaline Graham, Josh Tupuola, Andrew Vatuvei.

Key areas of improvement: 

“I’d like to see more consistency and more continuity of play. We don’t want to turn the ball over as much and we want to string phases together so that we can hold the ball for longer and play smarter rugby. 

“Secondly, we need to get our defensive connections right. One thing I’ve really noticed about this team is that they’re all very keen to make tackles and defend. We don’t need to teach them to get off the line and be physical, because they’re really eager to do that. We need to make sure that they’re moving up together with repeated efforts and that our line integrity stays in tact. 

“If you look at last year, the guys probably did that for the first part of the game, then fell a way a little so we’re looking to improve in that area.”

Player(s) to watch:

“I really like the look of our young hooker Jordan Ieremia. We’ve obviously picked up JP Sauni from the Waratahs, but we’ll need to have Jordan in the starting pack somewhere, he’s extremely talented,” Rivers said. 

“Tuitakau Kioa, TK, is going to play second row this year. He usually plays in the back row but he’s leaned right down after spending some time in Hong Kong and he looks great at the moment. 

“Michael Zakhia is also really impressive. He’s a centre who is still eligible for colts but he’s showing lots of potential and I really hope he can cement a spot in first grade this year. 

“He’s spent two years playing colts at the club so it’d be great to see him transition into grade this season.”

Hopes and expectations: 

“As a playing group, we’ve decided that our aim has to be finals. It’s been a while since first grade has played finals but that’s where we want to be. 

“We’re not going out there to lose and we’re not going out there to make up numbers and I think if we can get a few things right and keep some of our key players on the field, I think we can do it.”

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

“I spent a lot of time playing at Sydney Uni and it’s hard to go past them. Although I really think there is something special cooking at Easts. 

“Sydney Uni or Easts are probably my picks but it we were to make the grand final, I wouldn’t care who we are playing.”

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