2021 Shute Shield Season Preview: Gordon with Billy Melrose

A red hot Gordon side were the form team all season in 2020 and deservedly broke the club’s 22-year premiership drought after an impressive win over Eastwood in the decider.

Premiership coach Darren Coleman and a host of big names moved on after that match though, leaving veteran Shute Shield coach Billy Melrose to lead the Highlanders premiership defence in 2021.

Overview with Billy Melrose: 

“Last year was the longest offseason in history, it went for about eight or nine months and now this season, having finished late last year, it’s been quite compressed,” Melrose told Rugby News.

“I think everyone has heard that on the back of doing well last year, a number of our players were fortunate to get opportunities elsewhere, which is great.

“We’ve also had a few injuries, that we are still repairing and a few boys moved home. When you add the whole thing up, it will be a different looking side to the one that won the competition last year.

“Fortunately, we had a great year right across grade and colts last year so we’re expecting quite a few players from within the club to push up and develop into first grade players

“Last year was a fantastic experience. I  really enjoyed the experience of trying to assist getting the club back into the finals. It went a bit better than that which was great. It gave me a chance to focus on trying to find an extra 10-20% in the guys, rather than worrying about the entire picture.

“Both teams were always going to be below their best (in last weekend’s Australian Club Championship match against Easts Tigers). It was a frustrating loss because we defended with great heart but we just put ourselves in a position to defend way too much.

“We probably only played with 30% possession and 30% territory and it’s hard to win with that.

“In saying that, it’s very early in the season and conditions weren’t easy. Our mistakes probably just cost us a little more and Easts were good enough to take advantage of that at the end. We can take something from that.

“We’ve added some new players to the club but I’d rather not about them. They haven’t done anything as yet at the club so I’d rather focus on the guys that have.

“The guys we have recruited, for a variety of reasons have either been on the edge at another club or have been out of luck. You want guys who are hungry. If those guys perform, we can talk about them then.”

2020: Premiers

Outs: Rodney Iona (Brumbies), Charlie Abel (MLR), Mahe Vailanu (MLR), Dom Hardman, Jack Dempsey (Glasgow), Harrison Goddard (MLR), Tautalatasi Tasi (QLD), Jaline Graham.

Key Areas of Improvement: 

“It’s not so much improvement, because we set the bar pretty high last year. If we can play consistently at that level again, then we’ll be a chance, so consistency of performance is important for us.

“There’s no one single area that I’d like to see improve. I just want to the boys to stay grounded, keep working on the little things that can make them better and go again. Everything for me is about the consistency of your training, playing and attitude. Get that right and you’re a chance.

“I’d like to think that culturally, we’re up to it and many of the boys who are backing up have many years of doing well ahead of them if their hunger and desire remains high.

“The footy part of it, I think we did pretty well but we’ll have to change and evolve because it will be a different team with different players who have a different skill set. That’s life, stay still and you’re in trouble

“I also think after you win a comp, teams put a target on your back so I think we’ll have to be as good as last year if not better to be there at the end.”

Player(s) to watch:

“I think Tom Silk did really well last year and he’s really keen to do well in rugby and has a great attitude. I’d like to think he can add another 10% to his game this year and he can be a player who can push further.

“Reece MacDonald played No.15 for us last year after breaking his hand early in the season. He’s a No.10 by choice though and he’ll get an opportunity to play in his favoured position this year.

“He’s a really good footy player and finished the season really strong. I’m sure he’ll be looking to continue that form this year.”

Bold prediction for the season ahead: 

“With the recruitment Newcastle have done, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them to figure high up on the table,” Melrose said.

“At the start of every year, I think you can look at it in two ways. All the teams are either equal first, or all the teams are equal last.

“In my view, 2020 doesn’t really count for much this season. We’ve got some great memories though. This year, we want to repeat our efforts from last season but we have all the work ahead of us. We just want to compete hard and see if we can win the next contest.

“Someone said the other day that we were premiership favourites, but I dunno about that. I’m not sure which bookmakers they’re talking to. I don’t really care who is favourite, that’s for the punters and the people on the outside, I’m just happy to be part of a great club and team of blokes again.

“Personally, I don’t think you can control too much that far down the track. I think we will just concentrate on what’s coming up and see if we can get in that fight towards the end of the year, then I know we’ll be a chance.”