2019 Shute Shield Season Review: Northern Suburbs

Norths were arguably the team to beat at the midway point of the regular season after showing strong early season form without a number of their Super Rugby players who were set to return later in the year. 

But things didn’t pan out that way for the Shoreman and the 2016 premiers exited this year’s finals in straight sets. 

We caught up with Norths’ coach Nick Hensley to assess the season and recap their 2019 campaign. 

Overview with Nick Hensley:

“I guess the finish to the year was disappointing and I’ve heard a few people say that we were lucky to finish in the top four, but to be honest I think that’s just reward for good early season form,” Hensley told Rugby News. 

“We went and beat Warringah twice, we beat Eastwood away, beat Manly and other good sides like Easts, Souths and Gordon so we were rewarded for that early season form but just weren’t able to capitalise on it. 

“We had some injuries towards the back of the season and a few personal issues. I think I’ve got to take responsibility for not getting the team to gel right together though when we had rep players and injured players returning.

“It was a new experience for me as a young coach and I’ve certainly learnt from it. Our biggest issues were our injuries up front. We ended up with two young 18-year olds playing in the front row against what was effectively a Waratahs scrum and those boys did exceptionally well considering the circumstances. Against Uni in the semi, they won all their own ball which was a tremendous effort. 

“But it’s still not a position you want to be in with injuries like that in key positions. 

“The game against West Harbour in round 11 probably summed up our season. We played 60-65 minutes of really high quality football and went close to putting them to the sword. But we then also had the capacity to completely switch off after that and throw the game away. 

“We were clearly capable all year but at times we just didn’t execute when it mattered.

“When we were playing well, our defensive mindset was really positive and that went away towards the end of the season. Later on in the year we sat back on our heels and let big sides like Warringah, Uni and even Randwick in round 18 just run at us. Because of that we lost the gain line battle and when you lose that, you’re just about done.

“Earlier in the year, we were really aggressive and we were hunting to get the ball back rather than just trying to stop teams. 

“The club did a great job last year bringing together a really good quality colts group and that continued again this season. We had a strong tight five in first and second grade colts this year and we’ve got some exciting backs who will be pushing through the grades next year. 

“A few of the older guys are looking at either heading overseas to play or reducing their role at the club next season but we’re prepared for it and we’re excited about trying to bring some new faces into the side.” 

Which of your non-contracted players deserves to play higher honours?

“Harry Burey, absolutely,” Hensley said. 

“He’s an absolute professional, he knows the game really well and he’s got extremely high standards in terms of his performance and the performance of others. 

“I think he’d be a great pick up for any Super Rugby franchise. He can play a few different positions and I guess it depends on what attacking system you’re playing with. He can be that second ball controller and that can be as a No.12 or at fullback.

“Then guys like Jack Lindsay and Connor Vest, they’re certainly good enough and in a few years time, I think some of our younger boys will be as well.”

What needs to happen at Norths between now and round one next year? 

“We need to work on our scrum and we’ll be spending a lot of time on that over the coming months. 

“I also think we’ve got to simplify the way we play. We’ve probably overcomplicated things a little bit over the past few seasons and I think that’s slowed us down a little. If we can strip back the plans and detail a little, we should be able to free the guys’ minds up to just play and play fast. 

“The way the game is going at the moment, it’s becoming more and more physical and very game line orientated so there needs to be a time and place for lateral ball movement, you can’t just rely on that solely.”

Bold prediction for 2020: 

“I think Southern Districts will make the top four. Todd Louden will do a great job and he’s an outstanding pick up, one of the best footy brains in Australia,” Hensley said. 

“There’s something building down there I think.”

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