2022 Shute Shield Season Review: Western Sydney Two Blues
Western Sydney were the success story of the 2022 Shute Shield season. But don’t mention that to anyone in and around Eric Tweedale Stadium.
Despite recording the club’s best results in recent history, the Two Blues were bitterly disappointed to miss the playoffs in first grade and lose tight finals matches in second grade and fourth grade.
That’s given Sailosi Tagicakibau plenty to work with heading into his second season in charge at Eric Tweedale Stadium, where it seems sides are continually going to find it harder and harder to win in the years to come.
Overview with Sailosi Tagicakibau:
“As a club, not just in first grade but right across the club, we all took a step in the right direction this year,” Tagicakibau said.
“As a first year coach with a new playing group, it took a bit of time to click on the field and we struggled a little bit early on in the season. But we had our first win in round four against Gordon and then we continued to build momentum and confidence all year.
“There are a lot of positives to take out of the season, but there is still a long way to go, especially after falling just short of the playoffs in first grade. If it goes back to a six team finals series next year, we need to take another few big steps to make sure we’re in it.
“During preseason, the group came up with a mantra – Make A Difference or MAD – which we actually got embodied onto our jerseys. We wanted to make a difference in western Sydney and I think that really resonated with the individuals in our group.
“Everyone had a reason to be here. Most of the group were from the area or felt a lot of cultural comparisons to where they came from. Because of that, everyone really cared about what they were doing and they enjoyed working together towards a common goal.
“We wanted to make history together and to an extent we did but everyone was very disappointed to miss the playoffs and that has given us a great platform to build off moving forward.
“Playing and training at the Eric (Eric Tweedale Stadium) was unreal. It really helped us launch the next chapter of Western Sydney Rugby.
“Off the field, we knew we had to be a bit creative around recruitment and we relied on each of our coaches to tap into their individual networks.
“For me, I had tight relationships with some clubs over in the Northern Hemisphere, Liam (Windon) has been around the Shute Shield for many years and so has Randy (Basra) and once we got the word out there around what we were trying to do, we found plenty of players that wanted to be involved.”
What is the focus at Western Sydney between now and round one next year?
“Moving into our second season as a group, we all now know what we need to do to be successful in this competition. We managed to win against the two grand finalists in Gordon and Sydney Uni, so that shows we can match it with the best.
“Now we need to find a way to play like that week in, week out and that probably starts at training and in our work off the field.
“I think we were the first club to start preseason on November 1 and we had a really good turn out with lots of players eager to put in the work.
“The hunger is really there right across the club. Our second grade side just fell short in the finals, our fourth grade side made the playoffs as well and our women’s side had a great season as well.
“We know we’ve got the talent and the potential, now we’ve just got to work hard to become more consistent.”
Which of your players do you think deserves to play higher honours?
“Manasa Rokosuka was a standout for us, I think he played every game this year. He’d been a fringe first grader at Eastwood and Gordon previously but he took his game and his work rate to a new level this year.
“Kaynan Siteine-Tua won our Player of the Year award this year at loosehead prop. It was his first season in the Shute Shield and we weren’t really sure what to expect from Kaynan when he came across from New Zealand because club rugby is so different over there.
“He played every game and played 80 minutes most weeks, which is incredible for a front rower. He’s now in the mix for a spot in the Waratahs extended squad and I think he’s only going to get better next season.
“Then obviously we had Tom Curtis come over as a young flyhalf from the UK. He had to leave late in the year because he got called up into Sale’s top squad and he’s been getting some game time in the Premiership since.
“The coaches over there were blown away with how much he learnt and how much he improved during his time over here and I think that shows it worked for both parties, which is great.
“Our guys also really benefited and learnt from his professionalism on and off the field.”
What can we expect from the Two Blues and from the competition next year?
“It’s hard to know after this year. They’ve moved it back to a six team playoff series so that obviously makes it tougher for us, but we want to be in the top six as a minimum.
“I think we’re very capable of that. We lost a few games early in the season while we were still forming combinations and that really cost us in the end.
“If we picked up those games against sides that we felt we probably should have won against, then we would have finished in the top six.
“In saying that, we can only control what we can control and that comes down to how hard we work on the training park. If we do that and create a good environment, then the results will most likely take care of themselves.
“As for the competition, I don’t think anyone expected it to go the way it did this year. It was incredible to be involved in and I think we’re all really looking forward to doing it again next season.”