Eastwood 2017 Shute Shield Season Review – With Stu Woodhouse

After losing just two of their first 11 matches, Eastwood fans were beginning to get excited, before a season ending injury to star flyhalf Jai Ayoub derailed their premiership campaign.

The 2015 premiers failed to fire after the mid season break but recovered in time to sneak into the playoffs in sixth spot, where they ambushed Manly in the opening week of the finals.

The Woodies couldn’t repeat their heroics a week later in the preliminary final against Norths, but lost few admirers this year after overcoming plenty of adversity to play deep in to the season.

Overview with Stu Woodhouse:

“It was a bit of an up and down year for us at Eastwood. Our form in the first half of the season was very good, we were second on the ladder and we were undefeated after four rounds but then we hit a bit of a snag. We lost Jai (Ayoub) and then Rhys Allen to season ending injuries but we were still going quite well up until the halfway point of the season, despite having a few guys playing out of position,” Woodhouse said.

“We limped in to the midseason break, the boys were all quite fatigued so we decided to give them some time off but we came back and played an in form Souths team with Jed Hollaway and Marcus Carbone back and we didn’t play well at all. We struggled for confidence in that next period and a few guys were struggling for form. In saying that though, I think we finished the season well and were back to our best in the finals.

“We were quietly confident heading into the opening semi final against Manly. Our boys love playing at Manly and we’ve got quite a good record there. We had overcome adversity all year to get there and there was no pressure at all on our guys and as a group, I think we really enjoy those moments. We trained really well and added an extra session leading into the finals and we knew exactly how we wanted to play the game. We found a few spots where Manly were a little vulnerable towards the back end of the year and to the boys credit, they executed the game plan perfectly.

“We were pretty good for 60 minutes against Norths a week later, unfortunately the first 20 minutes really cost us. We started really well against Manly and maybe the guys thought that it would just happen again against Norths but they came out of the box flying and we couldn’t contain them. We knew exactly how they were going to attack us and we had a game plan to defend that, but we just couldn’t execute on the day. We fought back well and gave ourselves a shot late in the match, but we just ran out of time.

We changed our attacking shape quite a bit this year. Previously, we relied on our big boys to bust the line but this year we didn’t have as big a side, but we had a very good ball playing group in the forwards so we looked to attack more off Jai (Ayoub) at flyhalf, rather than off our halfback. A lot of our attack was based around him and that made it tough when he got injured. When we played well, we beat teams with our width and we were able to hold onto the ball for long periods of time and wear teams down.

“In the second half of the season, I think we lacked concentration in defence at times. By round 10 we were the second best defensive side in the competition and our attack was up there as well, but from there, defensively things started to slip. We struggled to grind out wins in matches that previously, we probably would have won and that was disappointing. Fortunately though, we fixed that heading into the finals.

“Overall, we were pretty happy to finish in the top four considering the injuries we had.”

Standout player(s):

“I thought Rob Lagudi had a great year and he continued that in the NRC. He’s a fantastic scrummager, he handled the ball playing role in the middle of the field and just got better every game. The key for him was to put in a bit more effort into his off field training. He’s got a very busy work schedule, so it was tough for him but in the end he was rewarded and continued to impress in the NRC,” Woodhouse continued.

“Tommy Hill had another strong year. He took a lot on his shoulders in terms of getting us going forward.

“Our openside Tevita Piukala, came into first grade late but he finished off the season really well. Zac Mackay was great in his first year of rugby on the wing, he was always dangerous.

“I thought Matt Gonzalez was very good every week. He got a better understanding this year of how to control a game. He’s always been very good at scoring and making breaks, but as a halfback you have to be able to read the tempo of a game and he got that this year.”

Which of your non-contracted players deserves to play higher honours? 

“Rob Lagudi is definitely one. Matty Gonzalez is going to be in and around it. Tommy Hill has been around those circles for a while now, whether his time has come and gone, I don’t know, but I certainly think he’s good enough and hopefully he’s got plenty of time left in the game.”

What needs to happen at Eastwood between now and round one next year?

“I let the board know a few weeks ago that I’ll be standing down and having a break from rugby for a little bit. I’ve been at Eastwood for seven years, been coaching in the Shute Shield for 10 years so I’ve decided to take some time away and focus on some other things,” Woodhouse said.

“As a whole, I think the club is in a really good position. Fitness wise, we always need to keep working and I think early on we were fairly fit but it dropped away a bit throughout the year. A lot of that was due to injuries, it’s hard to keep guys on the training field all season.

“I’m confident that we’ve got a good bunch of colts coming through and over the course of the next few years, there is no doubt that the first grade team will change and evolve, with a few guys set to retire. We’ll need to find someone to eventually replace Jai at No.10 and John (Manenti) is aware of that. I think we’re fairly well stocked across the park though, the only position I think we’re lacking a little bit is maybe No.13.

“Over the last two years, the competition has been as close as I’ve ever seen it. There used to be four or so teams way out in front, but now there is at least eight teams that can genuinely win the competition. Every club has a top notch coaching staff, so it’s great to see the competition going so strong.”

Bold prediction for 2018 season

“Obviously, I’d like to see Eastwood go on and win but apart from them, I think Manly are going to be tough to beat. Billy Melrose is a friend and he also used to coach me and I know his work ethic. The group will be really stinging from this year after bundling our after two losses in the semis and I’m not sure if that will happen again,” he said.

“Warringah also have a great mix of youth and experience so it’ll be interesting to see how they come back after the break but I think those two will be right up there.

“I would have said West Harbour, but with Tayler Adams heading down to Melbourne to join the Rebels, that’s going to make it tough.”