Gordon 2017 Shute Shield Season Review – With Mark Philp

After a disappointing few years at Chatswood, Gordon were one of the big improvers in 2017 and while the Highlanders fell a few wins short of a finals berth, the foundations for their revival were well and truly set.

We caught up with Gordon coach Mark Philp to review the 2017 season and discuss the exciting developments happening both on and off the field at the club.

Overview with Mark Philp:

“It was a big improvement from our first grade side, we tripled our wins from the year before, lost two games by two points and a couple of others by less than seven so the playing and coaching group definitely have the feeling that we’re on the cusp of something,” Philp said.

“We obviously need to work much harder in certain parts of the game and defence is one of them. We’re very good at scoring tries but we need to tighten up our defence as we continue to develop our attack but overall, there is a really positive vibe around the place so I think 2017 was a really good starting point for us.

“We changed a lot around how we trained and what we trained. The idea was that firstly we focussed more on quality, not quantity. Secondly, we simplified a lot of what we did in training and in games and that allowed for a higher execution rate. Previously, we had quite a complex style of play but we simplified that a lot this year and put the onus on executing really well.

“We started to see some local juniors return to the club this year but there will be a dramatic increase next year. We’ve been approached by a lot of Gordon juniors who were playing good level rugby at other clubs and have seen that the club is starting to turn a corner and they’re interested in coming back to play with old friends but also to be a part of the club again.

“When we played well this year, we stuck to our structures and plan of play, which was simplified but executed well. When we lost games or got behind, we went away from that structure and returned to some of the soft behaviours that we’d had in previous years.

“We had a bit of a lapse during the middle of the season when our S&C wasn’t working well and we started getting a few injuries but we’ve addressed that in our review process and we’ll do something different this year. We’ll have far more peaks and troughs around our on and off field stuff.

“The win against Norths was great. It was Ladies Day at Chatswood so we had a larger and more vocal crowd than usual. It’s great to have success against the reigning premiers but it wasn’t a one off, it came on the back of a lot of hard work and I think we’d been building towards that win for a while. It was a great day for the club and we had a reunion for one of our grand final teams as well so it was great that the wider community got to share in that win.

“Hindsight can drive you mad, but looking back on the year we certainly could have done some things better and that’s why we’ve spent some time doing a thorough review of the season. Like I said earlier we lost two games by two and a few more by seven or less so that’s disappointing, but it’s also quite encouraging considering where we were in 2016 and 2015.

“I’m a firm believer that the entire club needs to be successful, particularly the lower grades. Once you have success in the lower grades, that breeds confidence into the higher grades and adds depth as well, which is essential to win a first grade competition. Throughout the club, there is a lot more belief now and I think that’s been the biggest change over the last 18 months.”

Standout player(s):

“Bill Freeman was a standout, he was on the shortlist for rookie of the year and played 17 games for us. Tala Moli our No.8 was great as well and I was shocked that he didn’t get picked in the NRC, he was one of the best No.8’s in the competition. We had a few guys play in new positions, like Andrew Seton at hooker, he was great and played most of the year there.

“I think most people would agree though that Paula Balekana was the standout performer in the entire Shute Shield this year, he’s got a huge future in Australian rugby. Two or three of his tries were all Paula, but the vast majority were him finishing off some good work from the whole team. He did it in style though and I think three of his tries went viral on different rugby websites,” Philp added.

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

“I’d be shocked if Paula didn’t go on and play higher honours given what he can produce not only at Shute Shield level but in the NRC as well. On top of that, he’s just a really good kid and he’s got a great work ethic. He gets up very early in the AM and does his own sprint training before he does gym work, then goes to a job and then turns up to training. Not only does he have the raw talent, but he’s got the work ethic as well and I really do hope he cracks on at the next level.

“He really settled in to life in Australia this year. In 2016 (after he arrived from Fiji) he still had that raw talent but this year he got that confidence both as an individual and as part of our team. He relaxed into his rugby and when he started to enjoy it more, he showed just how good he is.”

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

“We need more buy in from the playing group to put in the work off the field. I think most coaches would say the same if you asked them. We’e got a new S&C coach at the club who is really kicking some goals early on and we’ve secured a great set piece coach for first grade so that will be a big focus for us, we’ve already started scrum and lineout sessions. So if we get application to the process from the playing group, we’ll see results.

“Off the field, we’re working really hard to engage local juniors to come back to the club. We’re also working really hard with our juniors so that they don’t have to leave our area. It’s arguably one of the strongest rugby catchment areas for juniors and schools in Sydney, NSW and arguably Australia, so there needs to be a simple pathway for players to join their local Shute Shield club and that’s something we’re working really hard as a club to fix.

“I’m not sure how many representative players at both a state and national level have come from this catchment area, but it would be a huge amount so for Australian rugby to be successful, Gordon and the surrounding areas need to be successful as well. I’m not trying to be arrogant or ignorant by saying that, it’s just the facts because we’ve got some of the biggest junior clubs in Australia in our area – Lane Cove, Chatswood, Lindfield, so we need a strong connection between the junior and senior clubs to capitalise on those numbers.”

Bold prediction for 2018: 

“It’s great to see that club rugby has such a strong force behind it at the moment and I really hope that continues. I’d like to see the Shute Shield finals played at the SFS and see what we can make of it,” Philp said.

“For Gordon, the obvious one is that we’re playing in a grand final. We want to be as competitive as possible all the time and a bold prediction sometimes sounds like you’re being arrogant but we’re not being arrogant by saying we should be playing finals rugby and we should be challenging for a spot in the big dance.”