2019 Shute Shield Season Review: West Harbour

In his first year as head coach at West Harbour, coach Mark Gudmunson performed a minor miracle at Concord.

After overcoming some off field dramas that led to a mass player exodus, Gudmunson and the Pirates began the 2019 season with close to an entirely new playing group to that of the season before.

Remarkably, the Pirates held their own this season and while they would have liked to finish the year higher up the ladder, things are looking a hell of a lot more positive for the club than they were 12 months ago.

Overview with Mark Gudmunson:

“Although our results didn’t really show it, this year was probably a step in the right direction for us as a club, considering where we started pre Christmas,” Gudmunson told Rugby News. 

“It was frustrating that we weren’t able to close out a number of games but that probably shows the gap between where we are and where we need to get to to compete in this competition week in, week out. 

“We were really lucky to bring in a great bunch of boys who all really got along with one another. There’s times where you can brings guys to a club and they just don’t click with the group but we didn’t have any of that this year. 

“Most of the boys were living together day in, day out and that sped up the bonding process and they were all really down to earth guys, which helped a lot. 

“We probably showed in round one against Souths that we weren’t anywhere near where we needed to be. We’d had a few guys arrive a week before that game but we quickly turned it around and beat Randwick in week two. 

“After that win, we sort of stopped and thought, we’re in this competition. We had a bye then beat the Two Blues, then we had a draw against Gordon in a match where both sides were very poor, lost after the bell to Easts in the next round, then got a red card against Uni the week after that. 

“So that run of games hurt us because we could have potentially been 4-1 after six rounds and that caught up with us at the end of the season when we were chasing wins to make the finals.

“As a group, the guys obviously came together really quickly and they played to game plans well but on the flip side of that, once they got in positions where we could have really put it on teams, we went away from what got us in that position initially. 

“If you go back to the game against Eastwood where we were beating them at half time, we had a game plan to make their forwards work really hard but in the second half, we decided to go away from that and they fought their way back and won. 

“We’re still a long way off where we want to be. We’ve had a tough run for probably four or five seasons now with a lot on inconsistency within the playing and coaching groups. We’ve learnt that consistency is key and you see that will clubs like Sydney Uni. That’s an area we’re really focussing on moving forward.”

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

“We’ve got James Turner in the NRC, he’s the only one from West Harbour which is a little disappointing. 

“Dion Spice is the leader of the team and was right up there in the running for the Catchpole Medal this year. He’s probably one that deserves a crack but there are a lot of good halfbacks running around in NSW. In saying that, I think he’s probably next in line if there are any injuries during the NRC. 

“Francis Ieremia, our No.6. He’s obviously played World 7s and come off the bench for Samoa in a Test match but he’s definitely ready to step up again. 

“Noah Cooper at fullback is the other one. He was really good for us this year and I know there are a couple of other clubs chasing him for next year, which is usually a sign that you’re doing pretty well.”

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

“Our first goal is to retain the current group of players that we’ve got at the club. Then when we do look to bring others in, we don’t want to go after anyone and everyone. It’s about targeting specific players that will add to our program. 

“That creates an environment that people want to be a part of and as a result of that, our lower grades get filled with new or old guys that want to be involved with what we’re doing at West Harbour.

“We’ve probably got about 90% of players looking like they’ll return next year but it’s very early days. The only player we know won’t be coming back is Tiaan Swanepole. He’s picked up a contract with a second division club in Ireland.”

Bold prediction for 2020:

“We want to field three colts teams next year and we’re working really hard on that. We lost our connection a little bit with our junior clubs in recent years and that’s something we’re working really hard on fixing so that players can play seamlessly in the area through 16s, 17s and into our colts program. 

“We’ve also been working hard to talk to a lot of school boys to try to break the mentality that West Harbour is a struggling club. 

“From a grade perspective, it’s not really bold but we want to be playing finals footy. That’s the key and if you’re winning games, everything else just kind of takes care of itself. We’ve got a really good back office at the club and we’re in good shape off the field, so we’d like to think it’s coming together.”

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