Eastwood 2016 Season Preview
Last Year: 2nd (Champions)
Ins: Joel Luani (Rugby League); Johnathan Malo (NZ); Cohen Masson (West Harbour), Jarome McKenzie (Eastern Suburbs)
Outs: Todd Pearce (West Harbour); Hugh Perrett (retired), Ben Batger (retired), Nick Batger (USA – back in May), Tom Hill (Italy – back in May), Pat Sio (Stade Francais, France)
Coaching Team: Director of Rugby – John Manenti / Head coach – Stu Woodhouse / Assistant coach – Jarred Hodges
Captain: Jai Ayoub
Overview – With John Manenti:
“The coaching set-up has changed a bit since last year. Stu Woodhouse is now head coach with Jarred Hodges as his assistant, I’m now Director of Rugby and I’ll oversee the colts and grade programs so I’ll be active with both groups but Stu will essentially be looking after 1st grade with Jarred. There are a few reasons for the change, one being that Stu is entitled to his shot. He’s served Eastwood well and been a very good lieutenant and as a club, we need to be rewarding guys who perform so there’s a succession plan in place there. Also, with my involvement with the Aussie Sevens, I’m going to be away for various periods throughout the season, including the Olympics in Rio during the club finals, so there’s no point me having a heavy load coming into the big games and not being around.
“It’s a big challenge for Stu because he’s obviously coming in off the back of a fairly strong period too but he’s brought in some fresh ideas and some new patterns and structures. He’ll have his ups and downs like everyone does with a changeover and you don’t lose players like Hugh Perrett and Ben Batger and just keep rolling. But long term, I think the club will be great and some fresh thoughts and ideas for the group will really stimulate them too.
“We targeted two people to replace Hugh Perrett and Ben Batger and I’ve replaced like-for-like as much as I could with Cohen Masson and Jarome McKenzie but they’ve got to aim up and play well – there’s no guarantees there. They’re both good footballers and I think in the right environment they’ll excel.”
Key Areas of Improvement:
“While our skill level has always been pretty high individually, and we’ve always been able to play off the cuff a bit, our phase attack has been an area of focus. The breakdown is a game in itself, it’s such a massive part of rugby now, so we’ve been working pretty hard at that area as well. Ultimately, it’s about not standing still and not sitting back because if teams came after us last year, they’re going to come after us twice as hard this time round. The key for us to evolve our play a little bit and try to stay ahead of them, rather than sitting on our heels and letting them come at us.”
“We’ve got a kid who’ll play his way into 1st grade through the season called Tom Murphy and I think he’s going to grow into a standout. He’s a classic no.7 and he’s going to develop as the season goes on once he has a bit of time and he’ll certainly be one to watch out for. I also think that, while he’s not a new sensation, a bloke like Jed Gillespie will really relish being in a leadership role. He had a tough year last year going down to Melbourne and not getting as much footy as he wanted to play, so on the back of a good off-season and by playing regularly every week, I think you’ll see him stamp his class on the Shute Shield this year.”
What are your hopes/expectations/challenges for the Woodies in 2016?
“Just being better and pushing ourselves further. It’s 18 weeks non-stop consistency of performance and we need to be able to – without a Hugh Perrett on board – to drive the attitude and consistency on the park and find some new leaders. Not just through words but by actions on the field. That’s the exciting thing because we have had these natural leaders in charge here and now there’s a new crew rolling in and I’m sure it’s going to bring the best out of their footy.
“I think potentially, we’ve still got some serious firepower out there. It’ll take a few games to embed and we’ve got a bloody tough start to the season with Uni at home with their new stadium, which is a fairly big day to kick-off the season with. But we’ve got good personnel and if we can stick at it through the tough part, we’ll be in pretty good shape come the back end of the season.”