2020 QLD Premier Rugby Season Preview: Norths

By Finn Morton; Photo – QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

After a slow start to their 2019 season, Norths showed that they can compete with Premier Rugby’s best after defeating both UQ and Easts inside the first seven rounds. But a winless backend of the season saw the Eagles finish last.

Norths did have five players selected in last year’s NRC though, and another three in the URC (U19s), which has head coach Luke Oxford feeling optimistic about the 2020 season, when it eventually kicks off.

Norths will be boosted by the addition of Pat Byron for the upcoming season, with the former Wests head coach heading to the northern suburbs as both the Director of Rugby and the assistant coach in first grade.

Overview with Luke Oxford:

“The best thing about this preseason is that we’ve been inundated with a heap of new guys coming to the club. I have to applaud the Queensland Reds coaching staff, Jim McKay, Cameron Lillicrap and Brad Thorn, who took a massive punt on my boys at the end of last year. They picked four in City and one in Country,” Oxford told Rugby News.

“Even though we had one of our toughest years last year where we finished at the bottom of the table, Brad and his coaching staff showed a lot of courage to pick these guys and they blossomed under their tutelage and they’ve come back better players. Just seeing how they prepare mentally and the standard they set within our group, it’s really rubbed off. It’s going to be an exciting time to be at Norths.

“Your first stage is your cognitive stage where there’s a lot of learning, a lot of mistakes and a high error rate. Then you’ve got the associative stage and that’s when players start to grasp subjects, perform well, start to make low error counts and then you see a rise in improvement across their games. Then you’ve got the autonomous stage where they just execute things under high pressure.

“Last year, in the first nine rounds we were in the cognitive stage. Towards the second-half of the season we were in that associative stage. This year we’ve come back and the boys are very confident because towards the backend of the season we were pretty competitive, in a lot of the games were leading with 10 to 15 minutes to go.

“You look at teams like the Canterbury Crusaders, the Melbourne Storm and the All Blacks, everything they do they execute at high pressure and they execute the fundamentals. It’s the muscle memory that allows them to perform in pressure situations.

“Norths are traditionally a running-rugby team and that’s one thing that the other teams in the competition realise. These guys have the skills and the capabilities to run it from anywhere and they showed glimpses of that last year.”

2019: Ninth (2 wins, 14 losses).

Ins: Matt Connor (Brothers), Enzo Mututi (GPS), Nathan Tweedy (Hong Kong Scottish), Miller Leilua (Souths Magpies), Harley Fox (Souths Magpies), Liam Roberts (South Magpies), Victor Thompson (Caboolture Snakes), Bailey Thompson (Caboolture Snakes), Falcon Peni (West Harbour), Logan Allen (Harbour Eagles), Shai Waiperi (Fielding Old Boys), Sau Leaaetoa (Surfers Paradise), Kinean Snead (Redcliffe Dolphins), Leslie Hills (Sunnybank), Matt Wilshire (Clifton Rugby Club), Mana Cecil (Work commitments), Ken Taviri (PNG).

Outs: Sefa Naivalu (Stade Francais), Duncan Paia’aua (RC Toulonnais), Matt McGahan (Ricoh Black Rams), Connor Chittenden (West Harbour Pirates), Jayden Carroll (Easts Tigers), Stone Kolio (retired), Saula Vuaca (retired), Wilson Enoka (retired).

Key areas of improvement: 

“Traditionally Norths have been an attacking side so we’ve just been working hard on our set-piece. Our scrum, lineout and kick receive.

“One of the things that we’re trying to encourage the boys with is repeating efforts. We want them getting up and getting back into the game as soon as possible. That’s an area that we need to grow in as a team. We want to look at potential opportunities where we can show the boys that these aren’t new skills it’s just all effort and I think they’ll surprise themselves.”

Player(s) to watch:

“There’s a lot of players to watch, some very good players but Veresa Mataitini is a quality player. He brings a lot of people in because the home crowd love it when they see Veresa in space with the ball early.

“Jordan Luke is a player who has blossomed under the tutelage of Jim McKay. He’s played a full year of NRC.

“Nick Chapman as well. He’s come back a better player from that experience. Dane Zander, he’s a guy that I think has huge potential on the game.”

Hopes and expectations for the year:

“It was a tough year last year but we’re not making any excuses. We had a lot of turnover but it was a good opportunity as a coach to coach what we had. It was a massive learning curve for me.

“If we can have a winning season this year, that’d be fantastic. Last year we implemented a lot of stuff throughout colts and grades and now we’ve got people in the right places making sure that everyone is playing the same way.”

Bold prediction fo 2019:

“Jeeps will be towards the pointy end of the table. I heard they’ve got a huge influx of players this year so I think they’ll be one team that will be very hard to beat this year.”