2019 Shute Shield Season Review: Sydney University

The defending premiers had no shortage of challengers in 2019 but as the finals approached, Sydney Uni were clearly the best team in the Shute Shield competition.

Rob Taylor added some new faces to an experienced and classy starting XV this season which helped the Students produce a brilliant second half of rugby to come from behind to beat Warringah in this year’s decider.

Overview with Rob Taylor:

“I was really happy with how everything panned out and with the original plan that we put in place at the end of 2018. We worked hard through the summer and throughout the season and it paid off at the end of the year,” Taylor told Rugby News. 

“In round one, we were beaten fairly comfortably by Easts but even after that we were reasonably comfortable that we’d be able to get to where we needed to get to by the end of the season.

“Post 2018, we knew we’d be losing a number of guys to different opportunities and we had others that needed surgery so we did a lot of planning around that and worked with as many guys as possible within the club so that they were in a position to step up when their time came in first grade. 

“The numbers show that we used a lot more players this year compared to 2018 and we sort of new that was coming but then we had a handful of injuries as well. 

“So even with the losses in the middle of the season, while they were frustrating, we still believed that we were building towards a bigger performance and we knew that if we could get continuity later in the season, we’d be right in the mix. 

“From about round 15 we started to get that continuity and probably only had one or two changes each week and I think from then we knew we could keep building each week. 

“This year in the grand final, 22 of the 23 players in the first grade side that day played colts at Uni and that’s a really pleasing statistic. We were determined to look within to cover players that left or cover players that got injured. 

“I was really pleased for guys like Ben Hughes and Mitch Whiteley who had been at the club for quite a few years now bouncing around the grades. They waited for their chance and took it and now they’ve won a Shute Shield premiership. Then others like Connor O’Shea really contributed to this premiership even though he played a lot of second grade this year. 

“There were a lot of guys across the grades that played a big part and deserve to celebrate the victory. That helped us build depth throughout the grades as well because guys would go back down the grades after playing up higher and lift the intensity in those sides, so the depth in the club is something that I was very pleased with. 

“It’s great to see some of the guys pick up contracts to play professionally. That’s what it’s all about, we’re a development club playing in a development competition and our role in Australian rugby is to help those aspiring players get to the next level. 

“What people don’t see is how much work those guys put in. They do it in their own time, no one needs to baby sit them, so they deserve everything they get and if they go into those professional environments with that work ethic, I think they’ll be very successful.”

Which of your non contracted players deserves to play at a higher level?

“Josh Kemeny is probably the one that springs to mind. He’s ready to take the next step and he’s still only very young, he turns 21 this year.

“He’s strong, powerful and he’s really fast. He probably only got into open space maybe once or twice this year but when he did there was no catching him, he’s a serious athlete. 

“Probably one of the forgotten guys is James Armstrong, he actually got our back of the year this season. 

“He spent a little bit of time with the Australian Sevens but I think he’s got a lot to offer and has the ability to push through next year. He played a big part for us this year but unfortunately missed the end of the year through injury.”

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

“It’s a tough one at the moment because we’re still working out who is going to be back next year, then when we work that out we’ll start looking at who the next guys to come up are.

“At Uni we don’t really sign players in grade, we prefer to look within and pick players who have developed from within our system. 

“We need to spend plenty of time thinking about what our side might look like next year and then plan a game plan and a preseason around that. 

“Ultimately though the recipe doesn’t change. There’s going to be a lot of hard work and if we think we’re going to need to blood a bunch of new guys, then we’ve got to work even harder. 

“We’re off to New Zealand again early next year to play the Crusaders development side. 45 guys will get themselves over there and get the chance to work on their game. It’s exposure to a different type of rugby and I think that’s really valuable.”

Bold prediction for 2020:

“I think the clubs with new coaches will improve. They’ll have more budget and plenty of enthusiasm so based on that you’ve got to look at Souths with Todd Louden. He’s a professional coach coming into a very proud club and I’ve got no doubt that the enthusiasm will be at an all time high. It’s similar to what Gordon went through this year,” Taylor said. 

“I’ll be interested to see how a side like Gordon backs up next year. I think Easts will improve again. They’ve got a great roster and a very good coach. 

“Eastwood have a few guys moving on so it’ll interesting to see how they go. Manly have a new coach and possibly some redevelopment to do.

“Randwick also have a lot of young Super Rugby contracted guys so they’ve got a lot of potential. 

“I’m not really answering the question but there’s a lot happening. I think you can expect clubs with a new coach to really fire and then clubs with stability to be in the mix once again.”