Pirates’ Gudmunson squashing ‘happy where we are’ mentality as West Harbour chase results

By Matt Findlay; Photo: J.B Photography

‘You must be pleased with where you are now’.

Given a dollar for every time he’d heard that recently you’d probably be more likely to find West Harbour coach Mark Gudmunson yachting in the Mediterranean than heading to Concord Oval for training on a chilly Thursday night.

The Pirates’ recent off-field plight – to the point they were on the brink of collapse in 2018 – are no secret, so it is somewhat logical to think Gudmunson should be happy he even has a side to coach at the moment.

He’s not one to rest on his laurels nor let complacency breed though.

“In the respect of getting those players and putting a quality squad on the field yes I’m happy  but it is a really quality group so in terms of results no, mate, I wouldn’t say I’m pleased,” Gudmunson told Rugby News ahead of his side’s round nine clash with Manly this weekend.

“We’re trying to stay away from that ‘happy where we are’ mentality because it 100 per cent breeds complacency and when you look at it, our situation could be a whole lot different.”

“We could, maybe should, be five and two at the moment.”

Instead the Pirates are sitting 10th through eight rounds with two wins, a draw and four losses, Gudmunson lamenting missed opportunities in a couple of those defeats and the deadlock with Gordon too.

“We had Easts on toast at 27-10 at half-time so if we’d shut the door on them and held on against Eastwood last weekend and got the job done against Gordon too, it’d be very different,” he said.

“It’s great to have a team on the paddock and have the club operating better but honestly, it’s quite disappointing where we’re sitting.”’

Reflecting on that rebuild, of course he appreciates the hard work that went into compiling his ‘quality squad’ and reinvigorating the club’s front office operations.

“It wasn’t easy recruiting players … because conversations went sour pretty quickly after the information regarding the club’s financials and that sort of thing came out,” he explained.

“That was really frustrating for us … that made it a tough sell because when guys heard I was from West Harbour I got a lot of ‘thanks mate, but I’m not really interested’.

“So we did have to think outside the box a little bit, although I’m glad we did in a way because if we didn’t, I don’t think we’d have the players we have now.

“We’ve won the lottery in a lot of the guys that have come across, all of them really.

“Everyone’s fit in really well and they’re all great blokes. Sometimes you can get that bad egg because a CV can really only tell you so much but that’s not happened at all.

“(Five-eighth) Tiann Swanepol is obviously doing really well and putting the points on the board and (centre) Tyler Fisher has been great too, the South African boys really have been incredible.

“(No.8) Francis Ieremia, who’s from Newcastle with a Samoan background and played a Test off the bench, he’s doing really well and has been a workhorse for us and (lock) Amos Viiga, who is suspended at the moment, has gone to another level since coming across from the Two Blues.

“I guess you’d say they’ve been the main ones but it is really tough to point out one or two, or three because everyone is really adding to what we’re doing and where we’re hoping to get to.”

Where Gudmunson and his Pirates are hoping to get to is clear too, he pulls no punches when asked of the side’s aspirations.

“Coaches of the past, in terms of premierships they’ve said ‘we don’t really like talking about that’ but that’s what we’re all here for,” he said.

“If you’d asked me pre-Christmas I would’ve said there’s no chance in the world we could do that this year but now it’s a bit different.

“We’ve come up against the top teams and been in the mix. I don’t think there’s been a team yet that was at a level way above us and, really, there’s no team in this competition we fear.

“Obviously when the Super Rugby season finishes that might change a bit because we don’t have anyone at the moment and some club will have a handful of guys coming back into the mix.

“That will change the scope of the competition so I guess, realistically for us, finals would be a good start and then, as they all say, anything can happen from there.”

The Pirates haven’t tasted victory since their 41-15 win over Western Sydney more than a month ago, so naturally returning to the winners’ circle sooner rather than later is crucial in a competition as close as this year’s.

Gudmunson knows that’s easier said than done against a Manly side stinging from a devastating loss last weekend, the Marlins blew a 25-3 lead against Warringah in a remarkable Battle of the Beaches encounter.

“Oh they’d definitely be hurting and Billy (Marlins coach Brian Melrose), being the calm person that is, won’t have gone into panic stations at all,” Gudmunson laughed, tongue firmly in cheek.

“It’ll be a challenge. It’ll be about stopping the onslaught of their pack coming hard at you, that’s a big thing so for us it’s about moving them around a little bit.

“They play an edge-to-edge style with their speed so if you can get their bigs isolated two of three from the edge you can create some gaps there.

“We just need to learn to stay in the fight though.”

West Harbour host the Marlins at Concord Oval on Saturday, the fourth grade Henderson Cup clash opening the day at 10.45am with the Shute Shield fixture kicking off at 3pm.

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