Parramatta 2016 Season Preview – With Paul Hardwick
by Paul Cook –
Last Year: 11th (21pts)
Ins: Riley Carter (St Patrick’s RC); Sevaro Domoni (Eastern Suburbs); Robert Duff (Hawkesbury City); Sione Pusiaki Fifita (Penrith); Sam Hayward (Sydney Uni/Canada); Dave Lolohea (West Harbour); Moa Maliepo (Randwick); Robbie Mate (Eastern Suburbs); Joshua Minhinnick (NRL); Jayson Roache (NZ); Fili Taufa (Tongan 20’s); Henry Teofilo (Souths, QLD); Senio Toleafoa (Tuggeranong Vikings); Tyrone Viiga (Eastern Suburbs); Trent Winterstein (Southern Districts); Johnny Yandall (NZ)
Outs: Larry Hermens (Northern Suburbs); Tomu Mataika (Japan); Chris Nay (Southern Districts); Evan Olmstead (London Scottish, UK)
Coaching Team: Head coach – Paul Hardwick / Assistant – Greg Michell / Defence – John Muggleton / Scrum – Ben Evans
Captain: Andrew Cox
Paul Hardwick: “We’ve identified where our weaknesses were, particularly around closing out games after all those close losses last year. We sat back and thought ‘How can we make the most improvement in the short period we had?’ and that was the key area. We also targeted guys who lived locally or had played for the club before because we don’t have the big budgets to lure everyone to Merrylands. We certainly don’t have coin to throw at these guys but I suppose we appealed to them on a few levels and we also targeted players who maybe weren’t getting a run in 1st grade and therefore, had a point to prove – more to themselves than anybody else. It’s certainly a different program we’re rolling out this year and we’ve had blokes ringing us up and saying that they’d heard good things and wanted to be a part of it or sit and have a chat, which is great.
“We’re certainly a lot further advanced than we were this time last year. I think with the coaching staff that we’ve got on board and the people our players are now receiving advice from, they’re in a better place. We’ve got John Muggleton working with defence; we’ve got Ben Evans – a former Welsh international prop – putting the polish on our scrum and an up and coming strength and conditioner in Dan Cosenza, alongside Greg Michell and myself. The players are very hungry to perform and produce what we’ve actually been trying to put into place at training.”
Key Areas of Improvement:
“The set-piece has been one area of focus and we’ve also been working on game management and how to strangle sides and close out matches. That’s something that’s really been lacking in the playing group in the past and we’ve really worked at those scenarios at training, and we’ve done that under fatigue to really test our decision making. We’ve also done a lot of work on defence and the improvements there have been immeasurable at training, and also, the way in which our ball carriers are going forward and looking for weaknesses and mismatches in opposition defences has been a much bigger focus than it was last year. Being able to string phase play together and still keep structure has been one of our focuses and sides that can do that, the top sides in the Shute Shield, they come away with points more often than not.”
“I’ve been really impressed with Jayson Roache, a new player to the club. He’s been very good. Senio Toleafoa and David Lolohea’s training ethic is fantastic and as a result of that, guys like Nick Blacklock, Nigel Vaifale and Liu Taituave have been feeding off that enthusiasm. The same goes for Kaleb Rech whose training ethic and positive attitude has been infectious. He’s itching to get behind the forward pack and distribute the ball to the backs that we now have at the club and the combinations we’ve got. The good thing for us is, we’ve got another young halfback in Simon Tevita who’s putting some pressure on him as well, so we’re starting to build some competition and depth.”
What are your hopes/expectations for the Two Blues in 2016?
“Last year, while we were competitive, we were seen as easy beats and simply couldn’t close out games. This year, I’m pretty confident that won’t be the case. I’m confident that we’ll be more than competitive and I’m confident that some of those games that slipped away last year, and the disappointment of losing and the way we performed – we won’t be having that problem this year. I don’t think finals are a step too far for this group, however, we’re setting realistic goals. Firstly, we want to make sure we can roll out the patterns of play and structures that we’re putting in place and sometimes, teams adjust to those things quicker depending on the playing roster you have. We’re very happy with our playing roster and while we’d love to play finals football, we believe results will take care of themselves if we’re competitive. We believe we’re a realistic chance of finishing mid-table, if not further north.”