Parramatta 2017 Shute Shield Season Review – With Paul Hardwick

On the back of their best preseason in recent memory, many expected Parramatta to be the big improvers in 2017, but unfortunately Paul Harwick’s side failed to live up to the hype. While the Two Blues won just three matches this year they may have built the foundations for future success.

Overview with Paul Hardwick:

It definitely wasn’t the season we were hoping for. In some aspects we were quite disappointed but in other aspects, we were still pleased with the exposure that some of our players got in first grade. We had a lot of young guys get exposed to Shute Shield football this year and I think that will put us in good stead for next season but certainly if you only look at our win loss ratio, it was disappointing.

We had a lot of changes both on and off field this year and we weren’t able to keep a consistent team on the park week in, week out due to injuries, suspensions and due to a few players getting other experiences overseas or with the Waratahs. That was fantastic for them, but it had an impact on us. We only named the same starting backline in two games this year so I certainly think that turnover impacted our season.

We had David Lolohea, Tyrone Viiga and Senio Teleafoa all play higher honours and while we missed them at times, it gave other players an opportunity in the top grade. They’re three very physical and aggressive players but when they weren’t there, guys like Adrian Musico stood up. He led the tackle count for the entire competition this year. In saying that, you’re never going to fully fill the void left by those three players.

Discipline hurt us in some aspects. We had a couple of key players suspended for key matches and I think when we did give away penalties, we seemed to consistently give them away in the red zone, more so than we did in any other part of the field. Having said that, we were one of the more disciplined sides in regards to penalties conceded per match and that was a huge focus for us. Unfortunately, when we did give away penalties or have players suspended, it hurt us.

Out attack was better than what it in previous years and we gave away far less penalties than in the past. Our defence is still a concern though and that’s something that we need to focus on going forward. We leaked far too many points at crucial times.

Guys like Andrew Cox were able to help with the transition of new players into the squad and I think that was important. Most of the guys are keen to return again next year. We started pre season training last week and the numbers were good, with lots of familiar faces. A  few will retire and a few have gone overseas and we want to encourage that because we want players to realise they can follow that pathway through Parramatta.

Standout player(s):

Robert Duff was fantastic in our backline. Adrian Musico had his second season with the club and in the Shute Shield, he was enormous and as I mentioned earlier, he led the Shute Shield tackle count and was one of our more consistent players.

David Lolohea was great when he came back from the Waratahs and got a bit of game fitness. He’d been spending a little bit of time on the bench so while he was very, very fit, his match fitness wasn’t quite there at the start.

There are a spattering of other players like Jaline Graham, Andrew Cox and Waldo Wessels who were all very good again. Andrew and Waldo polled very well in the Catchpole Medal so that was good to see.

Which of your non-contracted players deserve to play higher honours?

Josh Tupuola our inside centre graduated from colts into grade this year and he’s only going to be better for the experience. He managed to take his opportunity and then secure his position in the side so he’s now got 18 games of Shute Shield rugby under his belt. He’s certainly a talented young footballer who tends to make more good decisions than anything else so I think he is one looking forward that can make that next step.

What do you need to do at the club between now and round one next year?

The focus needs to go back on our defence and set piece. We were dominant at set piece time in 2016 but teams worked that out this year and we didn’t have as much success there. Sides were aware of what we could and couldn’t do and we weren’t able to adjust to that.

I also think we need to back our attack a little more. In the last year, we’ve added a lot of structure to our play and that’s probably taken away our attacking opportunities so we need to find a balance between good structured play and attacking to make the most of our opportunities so I think that’s something we’ll work on over the off season.

As a club, we want to continue to build a strong culture. We’ve had a number of recent coaches meetings with the board and we want to have a much more integrated approach throughout the club when it comes to training, functions and support. We’d love to have a few more Super Saturdays next year, where grade, colts and our women’s teams all play on the same day. We want to spend more time training as an entire club as well and I think that will help us build the culture.

Bold prediction for 2018?

I certainly think we’ll show a lot more improvement then we were able to demonstrate in the 2017 season and we want more and more of our grade, colts and women’s sides to be further up the ladder so we can collect some more club championship points.

I think more sides will continue to close the gap between the teams at the top and bottom of the ladder. Last year, people thought that we might close that gap but while unfortunately we weren’t able to, sides like Gordon and West Harbour did. The improvements that Penrith made were there for all to see and I’m confident that Parramatta will be able to bridge that gap and become a much more successful rugby club and a more attractive option for players around Western Sydney.