Former Wests coach Pat Byron hoping to change Norths identity after returning to junior club

By Finn Morton; Photo – Brendan Hertel/QRU Media

After spending six-years at Sylvan Road, 2019 Wests Premier Grade head coach Pat Byron is returning to his boyhood club Norths next season as he looks to reshape the identity of the club.

Byron says he’s excited about the next chapter in his rugby career as he takes on the new role of Director of Rugby.

He will oversee all grades at the club, but will also work as an assistant with the first grade side which will come as a major boost to Norths’ Premier Grade resurgence.

After collecting the wooden spoon last season, Byron is hoping to use his experience to work alongside returning head coach Luke Oxford to help the Eagles achieve their goal of a winning season in Premier Grade in 2020.

“There was probably a couple of options out there but Norths is actually my local club, it was my junior club. After speaking to the people there I was so excited about the opportunity,” said Byron.

“They’ve been there and thereabouts the last few years. Obviously 2019 they probably didn’t get as many wins as they’d like but the previous years to that, they had a really competitive team. For me it’s just about the challenge of going to your local club and trying to make things as good as possible.

“I’ll still be coaching first grade with Ox (Luke Oxford) there, so It’ll still be a coaching role. In terms of the Director of Rugby role, it’s sort of a mix but being in control of the whole rugby program was appealing. It’s a really good opportunity to go to a new club and do something a little different.”

Byron said the top priority in his first season at the Eagles is to reshape the identity of the entire club and to move away from the team by team approach, that he thinks has hindered player development and performance in recent years.

“The biggest thing they need is some consistency in terms of how they approach rugby through all the grades. From what I could see when I went there, it was very solo, every team did their own thing. There wasn’t really a club approach to playing rugby. That’s the biggest thing that I want to change.

“Off the field they’re a really good club but on the field they probably need a bit more identity in how they play. That’s target for the 1, 2 and 3 in terms of getting some alignments and stability, how we play football there.”

Byron added that to bring change to the club, there has to be a focus on the player pathways to Premier Grade. He said that both of last years finalists, Brothers and the University of Queensland, have had more consistent success compared to other clubs because of their player development programs.

“You see the Brothers and the Unis do this better than any other club in the competition in growing their own players from Colts. As successful as some of the other teams have been around the place, some of that talent, when they’ve had success, has been brought in.

“Definitely Brothers and the University are the benchmark in growing your own players. As a club, that’s a massive priority for us, to make sure that we’re getting some really strong colts through the system. Then those colts will make up your first-grade, second-grade teams in the future.

“That comes from establishing an identity in how the club wants to play the game. You want to play rugby for Norths, but also see that playing for Norths is a great pathway for their rugby.

“Norths, you wouldn’t call it a blank canvas but you’d definitely call it an exciting period of opportunity where we can hopefully make a big change.”

Byron finished by saying that like all teams in Premier Grade, the expectation was that they make finals. But he again mentioned the importance of the colts program as he looks to turn the Eagles fortunes around.

“Definitely the expectation or the hope for the season is that they make finals. There’s a good group of players in there that are definitely capable of doing that and there’s some players that will be brought in to try and help. But the priority from a first-grade point of view, is to have a winning season.

“The other big priority for the club is to make sure that we’ve got a really competitive colts’ team. With the Colts going to twenties next year, it’s going to be a tough and interesting competition but the aim for the colts’ program is for them to have a winning season and be there and thereabouts at the end of the year.”