2021 QLD Premier Rugby Season Preview: Easts Tigers with Mosese Rauluni
Led by former Wallaby Ben Mowen, Easts made the most of the club’s returning talent during the Covid impacted 2020 season to claim the Tigers’ first premiership since 2013.
While some of the bigger names from last year’s grand final side have moved on, the newly crowned Australian Club Champions don’t appear to be finished winning just yet.
Overview with Mosese Rauluni:
“Things are looking good ahead of 2021 but we’ve lost a few players from our grand final team with Ben Mowen and Aiden Toua retiring and Rhys (Van Nek) heading interstate,” Rauluni told Rugby News
“Besides that, it’s all going well and the boys have been training hard. There are a few new faces at the club as well and we’re all really looking forward to the challenge.
“I don’t think any team has gone back to back for a long time. Souths did a while ago but that was back when I was playing in the 90s so it’s obviously a tough thing to do.
“Last year was a bit of a blessing. We had guys like Landon Hayes and Tom Milosevic come back from Europe due to Covid, then Ben Mowen wasn’t able to head away with the Australian U20s, so he stayed with us.
“A lot of things went our way and we were really blessed to have a good run with injuries at the same time.
“After we lost to UQ in the major semi final, I think the boys realised that they weren’t invincible and they had to be at the top of their game every week to beat teams like Uni and Bond in the finals.
“It was great to have Ben (Mowen) in the forwards and Aiden (Toua) in the backs. It was like having two coaches on the field the whole time, their chat and communication was fantastic and their leadership made a real difference.
“Aiden was getting his hands on the ball a lot and directing play in attack and Ben kept things rolling forward up front. Then we had Rhys Van Nek running our scrum so we were lucky to have leaders right across the park last season.
“The younger guys at the club learnt so much last year and their work ethic is at a new level now, so with a few more years of experience, I think a few of them will be household names like Ben and Aiden as well.
“The Australian Club Championship match was a really tough hit out. Gordon really bashed us and I thought we played really poorly and were lucky to win.
“I was really pleased with the fight we showed at the end though to win the penalty and kick the winning goal. If we had of kept going, we might have scored, but we only needed one point in the end.
“It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it.”
Ins: Api Naiyobo (Norths), Ben Grant (Western Force), SJ Tamala (UQ), Andy Owens, Sunnybank, Will Burns (Brothers).
Outs: Ben Mowen (retired), Aiden Toua (retired), Michael Gunn (retired), Rhys Van Nek (Melbourne Rebels), Landon Hayes (Scotland), Rhys Jacks (Ipswich Jets), Kirwan Sanday (sabbatical).
Key areas of improvement:
“I’d like to see our decision making improve so that we are spending more time playing in the right parts of the field,” the coach said.
“At times we spend too long playing at the wrong end of the field and then end up turning over the ball. We did that a few times against Gordon on the weekend and it cost us and it was a similar story in our trial against Norths.”
Player(s) to watch:
“Api Naiyobo is a really athletic player who has been with the Fiji 7s and played for Norths for many years, he’s an older head and a really good defender.
“Ben Stoddard is the same. He’s got a great engine and works really hard in both attack and defence and carries the ball really well.
“I think a guy like Eli Pilz will really shine as well this year after spending last year playing with Ben Mowen and Aidan Toua. His leadership will shine through this year and I think Tom Milosevic will be the same.
“Tom probably outshone some of the bigger names at our club last year and he deserved our player of the year award.
“Richie Asiata and George Francis will also be crucial to our set piece as well.”
Bold prediction for the season ahead:
“Souths are looking the goods at the moment, they looked really sharp when we watched them play at the same ground that we were at the other week.
“They’ve had two big wins in their trials. I watched them against Bond and they looked really strong and a lot more experienced. They played smart rugby, ran when they needed to run and kicked well to get out of pressure.
“They’re a fit team and really strong in collisions so they’ll be tough to beat.
“For us, we have to finish in the top two this year. That’s the boys’ goal because they saw how we did it last year and they are hungry to do it again.
“By the end of the season we want to be in the top two and then go on and win it.”