2022 Shute Shield Season Review: Eastern Suburbs

Former Crusaders Academy coach Simon Kneebone arrived at Woollahra last summer to mentor an Eastern Suburbs outfit desperate for first grade success.

While it didn’t come in the top grade, four premierships across lower grades and colts suggest Kneebone’s influence is working and a first grade flag may finally be within reach for the Beasties.

Overview with Simon Kneebone:

“For me, this year was a fantastic introduction into what the Shute Shield is all about. It was a pretty tough introduction as coaches and as a playing group because the playing standard was just so high all year,” the New Zealand born coach said. 

“We had some constraints to deal with. We had new coaches and we were playing with a new attacking shape and that took the players a wee bit of time to adjust to. 

“We saw some development around the midway point of the season and managed to make the top eight, which was pleasing. But overall we didn’t reach the goals that we had set as a group and that was disappointing. 

“Everyone involved in club rugby over here deserves to be congratulated. It’s a fantastically competitive competition and it was outstanding to be involved in. 

“If you’ve got a big pack and a dominant lineout and maul, it’ll get you a long way in this competition which is fairly different to back in Christchurch. We are probably used to trying to move the ball across the field a lot more and it took us as coaches a bit of time to adjust to that. 

“It’s a fantastic competition though. There are some very big men running around in it and some very skilful players that can get teams to the right areas of the field to attack from. 

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“We had a lot of learnings from this year as a group and I think we’ll be better for it next year. 

“Aside from first grade, the club had an outstanding year with four championships coming back to O’Sullivan Road. It’s one of the best years Easts have had for a long time and credit goes to all those guys that worked so hard. 

“It’s really pleasing to see our colts finally win a championship in first grade. That means our nursery is pretty healthy and we should be able to pull those guys up into first grade and second grade next year.”

What needs to happen at the club between now and round one next year? 

“The boys are working pretty hard already and we’re probably three months ahead of where we were last year, which is great,” Kneebone said. 

“I think the players now have confidence in the coaching group, which is always hard to establish in year one. We’ll now continue with our development to try and play an expansive game. 

“Over the next three months, we’ll focus on really enjoying each others company. The group is really tight and we’re pleased about that. 

“2022 certainly highlighted some of the skill sets that you need to compete in this competition. That’s mostly around the set piece and playing rugby at the right end of the field. 

“My mentality is always that we play rugby to enjoy it so we’ll still look to express ourselves as much as possible. 

“I was pleased to see how many tries we scored from counterattack this year. That shows that the boys know that if they see an opportunity, then that can take it and we’ll look to continue that next year.”

Which of your players do you expect to go on to bigger things from next season?

“One guy who I think is an outstanding talent and who I think will develop into a fantastic player is young Archie Gavin. 

“He’s a workhorse and when you look at the stats, he’s got a really high tackle rate, he does a massive amount of work around the field.

“He’s only 22, 23 and he’s working really hard already and I think he can go on and do big things. 

“The other guy who looks really impressive is a young Australian hooker who returned from France towards the back end of the year named Julian Heaven. 

“He’s been training the house down and looks in great shape already. He wants to push through to the next level and I think he’s got the mindset and the skillset to do it.”

What can we expect in 2023 from Easts and the competition? 

“The mood in the dressing sheds after our semi final loss against Eastwood was pretty dark and we turned that around pretty quickly with all the boys showing that they were committed and keen to go better next year. 

“The group is really tight and we’re working hard to build the hunger that is needed to be more successful than we were in 2022. 

“They’re also committed to playing an expansive style so they all want to get their skillsets to a level that allows us to move the ball around and play plenty of rugby. That’s what we’ll be focussing on for the next few months. 

“As for the competition, that’s a tough one. I think it’s going to be even more competitive and when you consider we lost five or six games by just a few points, it shows if you can get it right on the day then you can go deep into the competition. 

“I hear there are going to be some fairly talented players coming from right across the world to play in the Shute Shield next year because the competition is in such a healthy state and that’s only going to lift the standard further.” 

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