2019 Shute Shield season review: Western Sydney

With a solitary win and a wooden spoon, there’s no denying the fact Western Sydney had another really tough year in 2019.

There were promising signs towards the end of the season but heavy losses to Sydney University (49-3), Gordon (43-10) and West Harbour (41-15) in their first three games of the season set the tone in a way, and certainly left the Two Blues chasing their tails at the very least.

With more battles to retain players and forced reshuffles as well, it proved a difficult campaign in more ways that one but head coach Joel Rivers does see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Overview with Joel Rivers:

“We started off well in terms of the pre-season, numbers were good and it was very positive but I actually think a few players might have had their expectations too high because of that,” Rivers said.

“In my mind, I think it took us a lot longer to learn how to build a win than I would’ve hoped and while we did have that good win against Souths, and that was great, I think we actually took the foot off the gas after that a bit.

“We lost a few players during the season for various reasons so we had to build our midfield up again and that didn’t help, but it did start coming through with five or six games to go, things started clicking a bit and we had a few really close losses against Norths, Warringah and Randwick.

“Even then, and I saw it in a handful of games, we’d be playing great footy and even be ahead at times but then try and grind out a win in the last few minutes of the game.

“I think it was quite telling in a way because even though I genuinely do think we were improving week-to-week, losing does become a habit the same way winning does.

“So it was definitely tough, but there is plenty to build on and we had some good momentum towards the end of the year once the guys really started understanding what we were trying to do.

“Still, no one ever wants to come last, do they?”

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

“Tevita Vea, one of our locks, was a convert from rugby league this year and he was just brilliant this year,” Rivers said.

“His ball-carrying was unbelievable all season but he’s one we need to try and hang onto, he’s had an offer from a rugby league club already. I think he could be a genuine star.

“Our winger [Tailiki Nadredre] is another. He’s a very, very raw talent but he’s tested among the top of all the guys in the Sydney Rays’ NRC guys in terms of strength and conditioning, he’s just turned 20.

“Trent Winterstein in the centres was great all year too and he’s had a shot in the NRC as well, I think he’s battled a bit with which way he should play but I think he’s an exceptional centre.”

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

“We just cannot afford to start from scratch or just plan to go and get players from elsewhere,” Rivers said.

“Recruiting is important, don’t get me wrong, even though it’s really tough out there. I found it tough at Norths when we winning but it’s even tougher at Western Sydney, because we battle the lure from rugby league so much.

“We could use some depth in key positions because that was an issue although we were lucky we didn’t have any really serious injuries, but there’s a really good core to work from and I think keeping those players together is the most important thing.

“There’s so much talent there, I genuinely think if we keep building on what we did this year, set our standards higher and develop then we can be successful.”

Bold prediction for 2020?

“The club’s been losing for too long and we need to break that habit, and like I said I genuinely believe with this group of guys we can be successful, we can have a positive-win season,” Rivers said.

“Some people have already laughed at me when I’ve said that but if we do the right things in the pre-season, keep building and control games a bit more we can do that.”

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