Big names added to West Harbour squad looking to continue Shute Shield revival

By Mark Cashman

It’s been slim pickings at Concord Oval for the best part of a decade but with the “new normal” Shute Shield season just around the corner there is definitely a nice glow about the place.

Wests finished second from last at the end of the home and away season in 2019 with four wins and two draws but that didn’t tell the story of the upheaval at the club throughout the season where there were very real fears about the Pirates’ ability to remain solvent.

Tough times indeed, but as first grade coach Mark Gudmunson reports things are starting to turn.

“At the end of the 2018 season we lost 13 of the 15 starters in first grade for a number of reasons,” Gudmonson said.

“So our aim at the end of last season was to retain the players that we did have on board and then build from there.

“It’s been a bit weird with training restricted but the feeling within the group is they want to get out there on the field and see where they are at.”

A veteran winger with Test experience heads up the acquisitions at Concord while at the other end of the spectrum a young backrower, still Colts-eligible and in the wider Waratahs training group, rounds off what will be an impressive roster.

Rod Davies, who played a single Test against Samoa in 2011 and won a Super Rugby title with the Queensland Reds that same year, has committed to the club with his sevens commitments with the national squad unclear.

Carlo Tizzano is the other big get for Gudmunson and is likely to form and impressive back row with another man from the Western Force, Harrison Orr.

Tizzano has played for the Australia U20s in the past two tournaments and if it was played again this year he would have one of the first picked.

He has been training with the Waratahs since late last year and has impressed many observers with his work in a number of contact sessions, keeping Michael Hooper “honest”.

Wests have also picked up two big props from Randwick in Cam Betham and Sonny Satuala and if these two can get fit and stay on the field the Pirates will threaten for a place in the finals.

Gudmunson has stayed in touch throughout their time at Coogee Oval and sold to them what the new West Harbour was all about. They have also been joined by another prop in Nigel Vaifele who was at the Pirates in 2018.

Another major recruit is Sam Wykes, who played 87 games for the Western Force until 2015 and then spent a number of season in Japan including the last couple with the Sunwolves.

The 32-year-old is working his way back from injury and when he is available will be a major asset.

“Harrison (Orr) is no certainty of playing, but we have brought in 199cm South African lock Etienne Oosthuizen and we also expect young lock Jack Lafolafo to play some regular first grade,” Gudmunson added. 

“Another key player is Elliot Turner who will push Dion Spice for the No.9 jersey. Turner has played Championship in the UK and also Rapid Rugby for Western Force.

 “On top of that I expect massive seasons from Francis Ieremia (No.8) and Dion.

“We’ve worked ourselves into a good position on and off the field now but the reality is that the work has only just begun,” Gudmunson added.

“It’s still a bit unclear about when we will be getting underway but we can’t wait to get out there and get started at Drummoyne Oval.”