Ruthven’s Rats set to return bigger and better following Warringah’s heartbreaking GF loss

After falling just short of claiming a second Shute Shield premiership in three seasons, Warringah have quickly moved on and shifted focus towards their 2020 campaign.

Former assistant coach Mike Ruthven replaced head coach Mark Gerrard shortly after this year’s grand final and immediately began planning his team’s return to the final weekend of the season. 

“Our last little period has been really positive. We’re about five weeks into a six week pre Christmas block, the numbers have been great and everyone is just ripping in, so it’s been a great start,” the club veteran told Rugby News. 

To be honest, the grand final hasn’t really been spoken of. I’m sure deep down there is still a bit of disappointment there but it’s not something we’re talking or focusing on. Everyone is just looking forward to getting back into it in 2020.”

Warringah led Sydney Uni 16-0 midway through the second half of this year’s decider, but couldn’t match the perennial champions in the closing stages. 

“We were near perfect for 60 minutes and then a combination of a few little things cost us at the end,” Ruthven recalled. 

“Ultimately, we ran out of gas towards the end and Uni were just too good. Had we been able to keep our two starting front rowers on the field, I think it may have been a different story, but it didn’t work out that way.

“We were the better footy side for 60 minutes but you can’t just play for 60 minutes against a side as good as Uni.”

Despite the tight loss, Ruthven said he remained full of praise for Sydney Uni, who he said are clearly the dominant force in the competition once again. 

“Despite the depth and the resources that Sydney Uni have, they’ve only been as successful as they have been and for such a long period because they work harder than any other club.

“If you look at this year’s grand final, man for man, I wouldn’t have swapped any of our boys for theirs, but ultimately they found a way to get over the top of us at the end and it comes down to hard work more so than anything else.

“It’s up to every other club in the competition now to lift their standards and to work as hard as Uni do, or no one will beat them.”

The grand final defeat was also club legend Hamish Angus’ last match for the Rats but Ruthven said the Rats remained positive about life without their star playmaker. 

“Hamish retired after an incredibly successful career so he’s always going to leave a big hole. Sam Thompson picked up a contract over in Scotland, then Boyd Killingworth and Luke Reimer both picked up Super Rugby deals, which we’re really pleased about.

“Boyd and Luke may be available for us around their Super Rugby commitments and we still don’t know what Sam will do after his season ends in May, but the flip side of that is that we’re going to be able to push new faces into our top side.”

The Rats have retained the remainder of this year’s grand final side for next season and recruited a handful of players in key positions according to Ruthven. 

“Playing depth and our roster won’t be an excuse for us in 2020. We’ll have a good enough side to be there or there abouts again.

“We’ve got a few options to replace Hamish at No.10. Harley Attwater played there quite a bit this year and did an outstanding job, so he’s probably the frontrunner at the moment but we’ve also got a few others who will compete for that spot like young Ben Marr.”

The Rats have shifted their attention away from their Sevens program in recent months to focus more on their 2020 Shute Shield campaign but will split their time between the two formats in the early months of next year. 

“We’ll play at two tournaments next year at Kiama and Hamilton and we’ll be having a really good crack at those, then after that we’ll turn our focus to the pre season trials and round one.

“It’s going to be another really tight competition. The Shute Shield is incredibly healthy at the moment and there are a huge amount of resources and effort going into it at all clubs so I don’t think there will be too many easy games.

“I know they’re doing some really good things at Western Sydney and they’ve got some quality coaches out there. Mark Gudmunson also did a great job at West Harbour last year and they’ll improve again.”