New Coach Sione Fukofuka looking to build on Sunnybank’s strong end to 2019
By Finn Morton; Photo – QRU Media/Brendan Hertel
Sione Fukofuka will takeover as Sunnybank head coach next season and mentor a Dragons side looking to move up the QPR ladder on the back of a promising finish to their 2019 season.
Fukofuka has no shortage of experience, having guided State High to a GPS title in 2016 and having worked with both the Australian Men’s Sevens Development side and the Women’s Youth Sevens team.
More recently in club rugby, he’s worked under former Fijian captain Mosese Raulini at Easts as an assistant coach.
Fukofuka is excited about what 2020 holds for the Dragons and was particularly impressed with how they responded after a month of close losses against four eventual finalists.
The Dragons bounced back in the final round with a commanding 41-29 away victory against Bond to earn Bunter Bowl bragging rights for the off-season.
But the coach knows his side still has a lot to work on if they want to be competitive in 2020.
“I used to play there a long time ago, played my colts and first senior games there. Debuted in first grade way back when I was in my early twenties. I have a lot of fond memories,” said Fukofuka.
“To get the opportunity to work with some of the talent down there is very exciting.
“To finish with a pretty strong win against Bond is exciting for me because it shows the potential that the playing group has and the real capacity to improve. I’m really excited to see what we can do in 2020.”
Sunnybank were one of two clubs to have had changed coaches’ mid-season in 2019 with Evan Willis having stepped up from his assistant role to lay the foundations for what Fukafuka hopes will be a more consistent improvement in 2020.
“When Evan took over towards the back end of the season, you could see real growth in some key areas. Their set-piece and their defence hardened up a fair bit. Their performances improved and they were in most of the games in the back-end of the season.
“We have to own some of the areas that haven’t been great over the last couple of years. I’m really keen to work hard on our set-piece. It’s an area that there’s potential there but they haven’t quite converted that into consistency. We’re going to work really hard, especially on our line-out to make sure that we have the potential to deliver possession.
“If you can’t win possession it makes it hard to put pressure on opposition teams and score points so that’s where we’re going to start.”
“Sunnybank has shown in the past and they were successful on the back off some really expansive attacking rugby. Obviously the key parts to that are around our contact and set-piece, and being strong defensively. From my perspective, we’ll be looking to take advantage of the skillsets we have.”
As his players continue to fight the humidity a month into pre-season, Fukafuka wants his players to gain an edge on their opposition by continuing to improve their match preparation and attitude.
“(We want to be) really well prepared and make sure our detail is on point. We’ll do that by working hard through attitude and work ethic to create an environment of competition. The boys down at Sunnybank are really excited and really ripped into our last four weeks in terms of our pre-season, focusing around those key areas.
“Those seem to be the key themes in teams that I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in that have been successful.”
The University of Queensland were the benchmark in the latter part of last season, winning nine of their last ten to win what was once an unlikely premiership.
While Fukafuka doesn’t want to put too much pressure on his side, UQ’s never say die attitude is exactly how he wants his side to approach matches in 2020.
“Going into the season, not to put too much pressure on ourselves but our first focus is to be competitive in every game. If we’re good enough, we’ll create opportunities to get results. Uni showed this year if you get your process right and you stay in games and good enough to take opportunities, you can turn those into results.
“I’m not saying we’re going to play finals but we’ll definitely be in the hunt and be competitive in every game. If we’re good enough, we’ll convert that into results.”