2022 Shute Shield Season Review: Hunter Wildfires

In just their second season back in the Shute Shield competition, Scott Coleman’s Hunter Wildfires were giant killers for most of 2022 but fell agonisingly short of playing finals footy. 

While trips to Newcastle were tough this season, Coleman seems confident they’ll only get tougher in the years ahead. 

Overview with Scott Coleman:

“It was a step in the right direction, that’s probably the best way to describe it,” Coleman told Rugby News. 

“I wouldn’t say we’re happy with the year and we’re certainly disappointed with how our season ended, particularly missing out on the semis, but from where we’ve come from it’s definitely a step in the right direction and we’ve just got to keep getting better and better for next year. 

“Having a proper pre season for the first time was a massive bonus for us. We didn’t get that before coming into the comp in 2021 and it was great to have the time to train and prepare properly for such a strong competition. 

“That helped with our continuity and we’re hoping to build on that again over this summer. We’re retaining 85-90% of our squad from this year, so it’s looking good so far. 

“The season ending injuries to both our centres Luke Nadurutalo and Nafi Tuiuavake, that was a game changer for us. If we had those boys at the back end of the season, I think it would have been a different outlook for us, considering how good our forwards were going in the later rounds. 

“I don’t think things went wrong for us towards the end but there were certainly a few matches that cost us. 

“Losing to Randwick at home on the bell, that hurt. We also lost to Southern Districts in Newcastle and those two losses came back to hurt us. 

“But we’re not dwelling too much on that. We were also able to win a fair few games in the final few minutes and there were a lot of positives to take out of those tight wins.”

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

“I’d really like to see us build on our consistency. We want to get the same guys training together consistently over summer so we can continue to build that cohesion. 

“I also think we can build on our professionalism.

“This year we focussed a lot on grade, while we tried to get our colts program up and running. Next year we still want to improve in grade but our main focus will be building the colts program to build that development pathway. 

“We’ve appointed John Muggleton as head of colts. Our second grade coach from this year is also transitioning to colts to work with the existing coaches. It’s exciting times.”

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

“There’s a few of them to be honest,” the coach said. 

“Donny Freeman at flanker and Phil Bradford at hooker stand out.

“Donny finished third in the Catchpole Medal and was a really consistent performer all year, he only missed one game. He’s a solid on the ball No.7.

“Phil Bradford was the competition’s leading try scorer as a hooker. He just goes all day, he’s tough as nails and actually played a few games with broken ribs this year.”

What can we expect in 2023 from your club and the competition? 

“I think we’ll be new and improved again and a lot more professional. But we’ll keep that tough, never say die attitude and we’ll stay in the fight for the whole 80 minutes. 

“We’re aiming to finish in the top four and I’m confident that we’ll get there.

“The competition will be tight again. It’s the silly season at the moment, you never know where players are going to be at this stage but the early chatter is that it’ll all be pretty even again in 2023.”