New coach Huxley confident Penrith are on track ahead of 2017 season

Penrith Laione Iosefa PEW1613 - Karen Watson

New Penrith coach Julian Huxley believes his side is on the right track ahead of the start of the Shute Shield season, but admitted 2017 isn’t going to be easy.

The former Wallaby took over from Jeremy Paul late last year and is looking to build the Emus back into a competitive force after a number of disappointing seasons.

“We played Norths last month and there were some really encouraging signs. We’ve got a lot of work to do but it gave the boys a good indication of where they need to get to by the start of the Shute Shield season,” he told Rugby News.

“Some nights we’ve had more than 80 at training, we just need to be more consistent in how we train if we want to be successful. Over the entire off season we would have had more than 100 grade players come and train so we know that the raw playing numbers are there, we just need to stick at it and make the club a fun place to be.

In a disappointing 2016 season, Penrith leaked on average more than 60 points per match and Huxley said the immediate focus was to reduce that number dramatically.

“I don’t want to give away too much, but defence has definitely been a focus. If you are leaking more than 60 points a match, you’ve obviously got some issues there so we’ve worked hard in that area. Fitness is one aspect but the lack of defensive systems and rules is the bigger problem. As coaches we’ve been working hard to give the players what they need to defend well.”

While Huxley acknowledged that he’d most likely be judged by Penrith’s win/loss record this year, he said one of the main aims was to increase the playing numbers at the club and create a positive experience for everyone involved.

“Obviously we want to be competitive but at the same time, we want to build a really positive culture and we want the boys to be having fun so it can be a bit of a balancing act at times.

“When I was playing, the teams that defended the best were always the teams that got along well with one another because you want to put your body on the line for your mate. There are a core group of players at Penrith who are very tight so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”

Penrith open their season with matches against Gordon, Eastwood, Warringah and West Harbour in the opening month and Huxley seems confident that his side will be ready for the challenge.

“From what I’ve seen at training, I think we can be competitive. I won’t make any predictions about wins and losses, but I feel as though the guys are responding to our rules and structures on the field and they’re enjoying it,” Huxley said.

“Hopefully we can get better every time we play and if we can do that, it’ll be a successful season.”