2021 QLD Premier Rugby Season Preview: Sunnybank with Sione Fukofuka

Sunnybank were competitive in almost every match in last year’s shortened season but struggled to deliver the final punch in a handful of matches, which cost them a spot in the finals.

The Dragons have welcomed back some familiar faces to the club ahead of 2021 though and seem confident that they’ll play their way back into the top half of the ladder this season.

Overview with Sione Fukofuka:

“We’re really happy with how things are looking at the moment and I know all the guys are really excited to be back playing footy again with round one only a few weeks away,” Fukofuka said. 

“Looking back at last year, I was happy with the season as a whole although we probably could have secured a few more wins. We were in every game we played in and of our six losses, four of them were games we lost by seven points or less. 

“I was happy with the platform that we laid but we obviously want to do a lot better this season. 

“Game management and set piece were probably the two main areas that let us down last year. There were times when we probably played too much in our own half in the final 10 minutes of matches. It would have been nice to have exited better and then played in our attacking half.

“Then we just weren’t consistent enough with our set piece when we were under pressure, especially our line out. It didn’t work at the percentage that we needed to provide good, quality ball for our outside backs. 

“It’s been great to have a consistent block of training ahead of the season. We’ve played one trial match already and took some learnings out of that. 

“By and large, our squad has been pretty consistent and we’ve only had a turnover of four or five players so it’s been great to work with a bigger, stronger squad compared to last year.”

2020: 7th (2 wins, 6 losses) 

Ins: Laurence Tominiko (returning – Shute Shield), Nese Solia (Melbourne), Connor Mulhern (Newcastle), Tevita Ahosivi (returning – Easts), Daniel Anae (returning – Shute Shield), Josh Fenner (returning – UK). 

Outs: Tom Lucas (sabbatical), Zac Shepperd (Shute Shield), Josateki Murray (sabbatical)

Key areas of improvement:

“It’s a bit of a repeat from last year to be honest but the two major areas that we need to improve on are our set piece, particularly our line out and our defence. 

“Our scrum worked reasonably well last year and we were probably mid table in terms of our scrum percentage, but our line out certainly wasn’t at the standard that it needed to be. 

“Josh Afu has come in and he’s looking after that this year for us and he’s done a lot of work on our basics and primers and we’re expecting that to become a much more effective part of our game. 

“Our defence also needs to improve. Last year we were able to score plenty of points and put ourselves in winning positions, but then we just didn’t defend the next four to five minutes well enough to avoid leaking points or giving away penalties.”

Player(s) to watch:

“Our new captain this year will be Liam McNamara. He’s been fantastic and has been training the house down and really embraced that leadership challenge. 

“Jo Faulalo, one of our young backrowers spent some time with the Queensland Sevens program over the offseason and he’s come back in really good shape and with lots of confidence.

“Josh Fenner is probably the other one worth looking out for. He’s a big, ball carrying No.8 who will be really good in the air come line out time. We’re expecting him to really step up this year.”

Bold prediction for the season ahead: 

“We want to play finals. We think we’ve got a squad that is good enough to compete for that third or fourth spot on the ladder. 

“Looking at the wider competition, I think there’s going to be a bit of a shift. I think a side like Brothers will be right up there again. 

“Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I think Jeeps will probably be the pacesetters. 

“It’s going to be a really competitive season though and I don’t think there will be many blowouts. When you look at some of the talent that is back in Premier Rugby and some of the changes to the coaching staffs, it’s going to be really tight and everyone is going to be really well prepared after a longer preseason than what we are used to. 

“UQ, Easts, Jeeps, they’ll be good but the rest of the sides will be right up there and I think there will be quite a few upsets throughout the year.”