Easts desperate to avoid blowing another opportunity at back end of Shute Shield season

It seemed as though everything was coming together at the right time of the year for pre-season favourites Eastern Suburbs in 2019. 

Pauli Taumoepeau’s side had won four of their last five matches heading into the playoffs, including an impressive 48-26 win over Eastwood in round 18. 

But just seven days later, the Beasties season was over following a three point loss to a side they’d beaten comfortably a week prior. 

“It was the same feeling when we lost to Uni in the quarter final in 2018,” Taumoepeau told Rugby News. 

“I feel like the boys were at the height of their belief that they could go on and win it and then we fell just short in a tight game against Eastwood, it was pretty tough in those change rooms. 

“There was just a feeling that we really, really missed an opportunity. I’ve lost in grand finals, I’ve coached teams that have lost in finals and semis and I’ve seen disappointment but the faces of the boys at TG Millner that day were just empty.”

Easts were the talk of the town during last year’s preseason but aside from a bonus point win against Sydney Uni in round one, the Beasties struggled through the first half of the season. 

“I put that all down to how I handled the new guys coming into the squad. We had some genuinely gun players come to the club last year and I just failed to create an environment where those guys could slot into the side seamlessly. 

“It took a lot longer than I thought it would to click, it started against West Harbour but then didn’t really click properly until those last five or six rounds.”

Easts are desperate to extend their season in 2020, after falling on the opening weekend of the finals in successive years and will boast a similar roster to last season.

“We’ve got Mack Mason and Charlie Gamble at the Waratahs, then Jack Grant is over in Japan. Jack is due back in May but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him signed to a longer deal once they realise what they’ve got in him,” the coach said. 

“I’m planning for a season without those guys and if we do get them at some point, then it’s an added bonus. 

“I think Charlie is good enough to break into the Waratahs 23 each week, it really just depends what they want to do with that backrow and the combinations they go with. 

“I’m a big supporter of Mack and I think he genuinely deserves a good crack at the No.10 jersey after playing for so long behind Bernard (Foley). 

“This is the best shape I’ve seen him in at this time of the year for a very long time. I chat to him quite a but and he seems really engaged and positive about the season ahead so it’ll be interesting.”

While the majority of Easts’ top squad remains unchanged, Taumoepeau said he expected a few new faces to push into his first grade side this year 

“We’ve got a 22-year old flanker named Charlie Smith who has been at the club for a few years now but hasn’t played much rugby after a few shoulder injuries. 

“He went through school with Ryan McCauley and was probably a little too small to crack through into the schoolboy sides but he was probably the best player on the field in most games he played back then. 

“He’s back after two years off and has been outstanding. He put on 7kgs over summer in a really good way and he’s still got the game sense that he had back when we was a dominant, smaller guy.”

While the coach remained tightlipped about how his side would play this season, he said he thought most sides in the competition would be prioritising their scrum this pre-season after watching Sydney Uni’s dominance at set piece time late last year.

“We’ve probably had bit of a shift in the way we look at the game because the competition has been changing over the last few years. 

“We improved our scrum last year but we need to improve again. We’ve picked up Vuni Fifita who played with Tonga in the World Cup so we’ve added some muscle and depth but there’s still a long way to go.”

“I always think Uni are the team to beat because I believe in their program and their coach but talking to Rob (Taylor), he’s almost lost his entire grand final team from last year to higher honours. 

“I guess that’s the only downside to winning back to back comps, even though that’s what we’re here to do. 

“I still think Uni will be up there, then Souths will really improve under Todd Louden. He’s a great coach and when you can get belief into a playing group like that, they’ll be exciting to watch.”