Jai Ayoub: Out of form Eastwood still a premiership threat

Eastwood may have lost their last three matches and dropped to eighth on the Intrust Shute Shield ladder but the reigning premiers aren’t worried, according to captain Jai Ayoub.

“There’s no panic. We are still a close knit group and everyone is still competing really hard. Sure, we’re frustrated that we aren’t winning, but that just shows the competitive nature of this group,” Ayoub told Rugby News.

After beating Sydney Uni a month ago in their best performance of the year, the Woodies have dropped three straight matches, losing to Southern Districts and West Harbour, before giving up a lead late in the match to lose to Parramatta for the second time this season.

“We probably had our best training run of the year leading into that match and wrote a few wrongs from the previous weeks so we went into the game quite confident. In the first 20 minutes we dominated field position and territory but we just couldn’t break them,” Ayoub explained.

“They scored a try against the run of play and went to the break up 7-0, but we still felt comfortable and came back out in the second half and scored a few good tries and had all the momentum.

“I can’t tell you when the momentum shifted but it did. They played the 80 minutes and outmuscled us at set piece and when they got good field position, they capitalised.”

Eastwood have shown glimpses of brilliance this year but have been far from their dominant best in 2016 and will now most likely need to win at least two of their their final three matches to claim a spot in the finals.

“I think we just need to improve our resilience and our attitude. We all know we can play good footy on the field but it’s about doing it for 80 minutes and that is something that we’ve lacked all year, so we’ll be targeting that this week.

“We need to limit our turnovers and limit our penalty count. I think we’re the most penalised team in the comp at the moment,” Ayoub added.

After claiming back to back titles, the likes of Ben Batger, Hugh Perrett and coach John Manenti left the side at the end of 2015.

While Manenti is still involved as Eastwood’s coaching director, just five players remain from last year’s premiership team but Ayoub is still confident the new look Eastwood side can bounce back and claim their fourth title in six years.

“It’s definitely the tightest competition I’ve been involved in. To be fair, three weeks ago when we beat Uni, we were one point off first. Now we’ve had three losses that we didn’t anticipate and we’ve dropped down to eighth.

“Regardless, we are still within reach of the finals and I think there would be teams in that top six that will be looking over their shoulders at us. Honestly, I think any of the six teams in the finals will be able to win it this year.”

With matches against Penrith, Randwick and Gordon to come, Eastwood will most likely find a spot in the top six at the end of the regular season, but they’ll need to overcome their terrible away record in the finals.

So far this year, the Woodies have won just one of their seven matches on the road.

“When you look back two years ago, we lost our first semi to Souths and had to travel to Manly to make the grand final, so we can take confidence out of the fact that we’ve done it before.

“Finals is a different ball game, everyone knows that. Whether it’s at home or away, we have great support that will follow us and we’ll have a lot of lower grades around us so if we are in a two-team battle, we’ll give ourselves a chance against anyone.”

In the Shute Shield’s 93 year history, only six teams have claimed three straight premierships and while the odds may be against Eastwood, Ayoub said he is confident the Woodies are good enough to become the seventh.

“We take a lot of confidence out of the last two years and we’ve had seconds and thirds playing finals as well, so we’ve got a lot of guys that know what it takes to play finals footy.

“There are teams that are in a lot better form than we are at the moment, but the grand final is still six weeks away, we’ve got plenty of time to improve and get to where we need to be.”