Eastern Suburbs 2017 Shute Shield Season Review – With Craig Morrison

2017 didn’t quite go to plan on a lot of fronts for Eastern Suburbs, who were forced to jump around Sydney to train and play after their new synthetic pitch at Woollahra was deemed unplayable just weeks before the start of the competition.

The young Beasties finished ninth with six wins from 18 matches, but with a number of local juniors playing their way into first grade in 2017, things are looking promising for the years ahead.

While Pauli Taumoepeau will take the reigns next year, we caught up with 2017 coach Craig Morrison to review the Beasties season.

Season Overview with Craig Morrison: 

“It was disappointing for a lot of reasons. We won six and lost nine but a handful of those losses were by a try and we only needed three more wins and we would have been right in finals contention. There were probably three games where we just didn’t front up on the day and weren’t in, but besides that we were competitive in 15 of 18 matches,” Morrison said.

“On six of those occasions, we were forced to play away when we should have been playing at home and I think that hurt us. Throughout the year we tried not to talk about it because you don’t want to make excuses but once the dust has settled and you look back on it, we were underdone on the training paddock because we didn’t have a field before and during the season.

“One observation I heard from someone was that we lacked fitness but I don’t think we lacked fitness as much as we lacked detail and polish in those crucial moments. And again that comes back to training because we just didn’t have the field space to work on kick off receptions and certain game skills that you need. Most of our Thursday night sessions were on a field that was barely lit and we’d train in a corner of the field at Cranbrook most the time.

“Not playing at Woollahra also hurt us. We led Warringah 27-7 with 10 minutes to go up at Pittwater when we should have been at Woollahra and they came back for a 27-27 draw. You wonder if we would have let that game slip at home.

“As a squad, we added a lot of young talent this year. We had 15 plus players make their first grade debut and of those 15, they’ll all return next year. Then we’ll get a big influx of colts guys coming into grade as well.

“I thought our attack was fairly potent and we attacked from anywhere on the field. We showed vision, good skill and decision making and I think teams realised that we could score from anywhere. That’s probably something Easts sides in the past have struggled with, so I was pleased with that.

“We didn’t have a lot go right this year, but we still competed in almost every game so we were quite consistent. Statistically, it wasn’t a great season but I was quite pleased with a lot of our performances and I’m excited to watch the young players mature in the years to come.”

Who were your standout player(s) this year? 

“Fergus Lee-Warner had a great season this year. He was our best and fairest and he’s still a young player even though he’s had a bit of first grade experience. Will Maddocks, Ned Yeomans, Archie King and Jack Digby all had strong years and they’ll all grow from the experience of this season. I think those guys are the future of the club,” Morrison said.

“We didn’t see as much as we would of liked of Mack Mason, he’ll be back again next year and he’s a player of the future. I also thought Sam Fogarty was another who had a great season in his first year at the club.

“Then we had Cody Walker and Ryan McCauley play Australian U20s. Cody didn’t play a game for us all year and Ryan only played a few but they’ll be back next year.

“If you look at the average age of all those players, plus the others who made their debut, they’re all still quite young so it’s promising for the future.”

Which of your non contracted players deserve to play at a higher level? 

“I think Fergus Lee-Warner would have to be the one, he’s got great potential. He’s skilful, physical, a good ball runner, he’s good in the air and at lineout time.

“It’s up to him really. He’s a resilient guy and if he knuckles down and gives it a good go, he could be anything. He’s not the biggest lock going around but he plays well about his weight. No.6 is probably his ideal position if he can work on his mobility. He’s got enormous potential.

“Guys like Mack Mason, Cody Walker and Ryan McCauley also have big futures.”

What do Eastern Suburbs need to do between now and round one next year to improve? 

“It’s a tough one. Next year, Easts will have their third coach in four years, fourth coach in five years so the decision to chop and change coaches all the time isn’t helping the club. I think the onus needs to go back on performance because you don’t just change a coach and win a premiership.

“There is something else in the fabric of the place that isn’t quite right and that needs to change. Hopefully those making the decisions will back Pauli (Taumoepeau) and stick with him because I don’t think changing coaches is the complete answer.

“The field and all that will make a difference but there needs to be an overall attitude adjustment if we want to be a winning club. There’s no secrets to it, it comes down to hard work.”

Bold prediction for 2018

“I think guys like Fergus will continue to develop and have a positive year. It’ll be good to see Ted Pye and some of the other younger guys that came into grade this year keep improving.

“We focussed on developing our own players this year, rather than bringing guys in so I hope to see that continue. It won’t help you win a premiership in your first year, but it will help you build a good strong club and put you in good stead for the future.

“I’ve mentioned a lot of young guys and there are a lot more that I haven’t mentioned, but they are the future of the club so I hope they can go to the next level.”