Shute Shield: 2015 Season Review – Randwick
by Paul Cook –
On we march with our 2015 season reviews as we continue to build-up towards Shute Shield 2016, a competition that is already promising to be hugely competitive with the progress shown by so many sides last time out. We’re now into the top six, those teams that contested finals footy with dreams of going all the way. But how did they get there? First up – Randwick.
With the groundwork being laid at Coogee Oval in recent seasons through the fostering of links with the University of New South Wales, and the swelling of the club’s colts ranks as a result, the time was ripe for a fresh, new voice to come onboard and oversee the return of one of Australian rugby’s most iconic names to the pinnacle of the Sydney club scene. Step forward Shannon Fraser.
With a desire to play the ‘Randwick way’ and an innate attention to detail, execution and skill levels, Fraser set about shaping the host of young talent at his disposal into genuine title material. With the blooding of so many greenhorns, a top six finish and an exit in week one of the finals was an achievement in itself, but the experience gained in 2015 should mark them out as a side that are capable of greater things this year.
Rugby News caught up with Fraser recently to discuss the adventures of his first year down at the ‘Coodge’ and the progress and potential of his young side.
Give us a brief overview of the season from your perspective?
Shannon Fraser: “I was pretty pleased actually. We sort of looked at it and recognised early on that we were going to have a young group, and with a young group we had to, in many ways, retrain in the way we were going to play. In previous years, there’d been a bit of a similar playing style from schoolboy football up into Randwick and we recognised that we really needed to pull that apart a bit and look at it and add a different way of doing things. So, to finish with more wins than losses and get ourselves into the play-offs was pretty pleasing. We’re certainly not settled but we’re comfortable in where we went, knowing that we also had 37 1st grade debutants and went through 61 1st graders in total, so there was a fair bit of training that went on last year as opposed to actual performance.”
61 players in 1st grade and 37 debutants is a heck of a tally?
“I think that was reflective of where the club was at. We had a very strong colts set-up, we had a lot of young guys coming up into grade, and I guess it stems from my philosophy as well in terms of rewarding good performances in lower grade and in colts. I’m a firm believer that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Those figures also speak of the quality of players that we had involved that were away with the Aussie U20s or with Sevens etc and that opened up a lot of opportunities for other guys to play 1st grade also.”
You started with a heavy loss to the eventual champions, Eastwood, then won five in a row, but finished with only six wins from your final 12 matches. Is it fair to say it was that inconsistency in the back half of the competition that cost you a higher finish?
“Without a doubt, but I think it’s a little bit relative too. We had a fairly friendly draw to start with and we went into it pretty confident off the pre-season having changed a few things, performed well at training and the trials having gone ok. We were benchmarked pretty early by coming up against Eastwood in round one and that game reminded us that there was still a lot of hard work to do. But the draw over the next five weeks, and the opposition we faced – or the pressure put on us by the opposition we faced – was much less, and that enabled us to build into our style a little bit more and generate some confidence within the group over that next period.
“That did build a bit of a false sense of security when we did then hit the bigger teams and we went into a run against Manly, Uni and Souths where we only pulled one out of those three. We were comfortable with that but again, it was certainly a bit of a wake-up call, and as you said, the second half of the year was very inconsistent. I think that was relative to our own performance, as much as it was to our opposition getting stronger. But it was also a time where we were starting to introduce a lot more players who were coming back from the Aussie U20s or Sevens program, so there was always going to be that little bit of inconsistency and cohesion.”
Before the season you said you wanted to improve the skill levels across the board and up the physicality – did you achieve both aims?
“I think we did. We were pretty accurate in terms of what we achieved on the skills side of things, we did unlock the freedom to play and let the guys play a bit more. We also redirected our physicality a little bit and I think that was an area where we were generally proud and pleased with where we went. But I think we can redirect a bit more and be a bit smarter and certainly, the contest is an area where we didn’t get as physical as we could have. I thought our line speed and defensive physicality were excellent but our set-piece was another area that I feel we can get some more gains in a physical sense, as well as in the technical elements.”
You also wanted to get back to the brand of footy that the Randwick club is famous for, do you think you took a step in the right direction on that front?
“Yes, definitely. What was interesting when we did our post-mortem at the end of the season with some legends of the club like Bob Dwyer, Simon Poidevin, Morgan Turinui, Stephen Hoiles and Adam Freier, was that they were very complimentary of the way that we played and that they are seeing a direct correlation to the successful years of Randwick going back a couple of decades, which is good.
“I certainly believe we’re moving in the right direction, the big steps we need to take now are more on the skill side of things across the board and also our mindset. The guys talk about the ‘Randwick way’ and it’s almost intangible. It’s a mindset to play and take the shackles off, back yourself and have that confidence, which means that support needs to be better, and I think we’ve got to take things a little bit further to get there. But guys have definitely been moving more, they’ve been throwing more passes, made more line breaks and scored more tries so, from that perspective, we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
The team scored more tries than in 2014 but finished 8th on the points scoring list. Does that tell us that you still left quite a few out there?
“We left a few points off the tee out there no doubt, and we suffered in our kicking game as a whole. Some of that was decision making and some of it was execution. In some of our early games we kicked quite well, which put us on the front foot but we played a lot of football on our toes in some of those tougher games and we threw a lot of little ones over the line, which were poor decisions. When we did kick long, we kicked under pressure so, there’s definitely some smarts we can get into our kicking game for this year.
“We also created a lot of opportunities in open field that we didn’t necessarily capitalise on, which comes back down to maturity in performance. That will come with experience – you can’t debutise someone with experience, they’ve got to earn it – and we’ll see a little bit more maturity in performance over the next couple of years.”
How far off is the side from being genuine title contenders or is that too much pressure at this stage of their development?
“I don’t think that’s too much pressure. Off the back of an improved year we’ve had 14 players play in the NRC and that’s a pretty good result for one club, and a lot more valuable experience for those guys, which has fast-tracked their progress. This year, we need to be thinking of ourselves as being in the top four and getting ourselves to that last game of the year, that’s the expectation around this group and that’s the next step for them.”
Across the club, all grades and colts made it into the finals, with 2nd Grade and all three colts sides just coming up short on Grand Final day. That’s still some very healthy signs of depth at Coogee Oval?
“We came off the year before where we had our 1st colts in the finals and the natural progression there is that a large number of guys came up into grade. We took a lot of them in 1st grade but they did drift between 1st and 2nd and a lot of other guys got plenty of time in 3rd grade. That strengthened our 2nd grade and I think this year, we’re certainly on track to continue that depth within our colts and that depth in our 2nd grade and building into our 1st grade. I’d be pretty comfortable to say we should be in a similar situation come finals time, hopefully with another couple of teams featuring in that last game of the year.”
Before a ball was kicked you told Rugby News about the excitement you had about joining a club with the history of Randwick, and the responsibility you felt to honour those traditions. So how was your first year – enjoy it?
“It’s been an excellent experience. I’ve enjoyed having people around me that are not only quality because of what they’ve achieved in the game but because they are quality human beings. You talk to Jeff Sayle every Tuesday and Bob Dwyer is only a phone call away and what I love most is their passion for the game. My philosophy is about playing a style of football that is enjoyable to watch and play, we spoke all year about that. And that marries up very well with the club and the culture of the club, in that it is more about performance than results. Results are obviously important but the conversations I had with those guys were very rarely about positions on the table, it was all about performance and the style of play, which has been great. It’s been a good learning year for me as well, I’ve certainly tapped into the resources that are there and I’ve got a lot out of it. It’s a good group and I’m pretty excited about the next year or two.”
Player/s of the Year?
“Mark Baldwin. That’s a testament to his consistency over the year and his ability to cover both openside flanker and no.8. Another couple of guys I could mention who were rewarded by their selection for the NRC were Mitch Short and Sam Figg. Mitch was outstanding, not only in bouncing back from the disappointment of not making the Aussie U20’s squad for the Junior World Cup but in coming back and playing a pivotal role in 1st grade. Sam had his own Everest to conquer in mid-year in trying to come back from a neck injury and the way he managed that was pretty seamless. He got better every week and then from an Eagles perspective in the NRC, he went on to be one of the most consistent performers and now has a contract with the Aussie Sevens so he’s done very well. Those three guys probably stand out and then, obviously, we had David Horwitz, who won the Ken Catchpole Medal and was one of our best week-in, week-out.”
Rookie/s of the Year?
“Chris Taripo and Latu Latunipulu played a fair amount of 1st grade for us and did well. Chris was transitioning from league with very little rugby background and he had his own battles along the way to adjust to the game. But he played quite well and was certainly one of the standouts in 2nd grade. Latu was in his first year out of school and you’re going to see big things from him. We had the luxury of bringing guys back into the group like Andrew Kellaway, Andrew Deegan and Dave Horwitz, and also Brogan Roods from injury, so that squeezed Latu out a little bit for game time. But both he and Chris are definitely at the forefront of our players to watch.”
Most Improved Player of the Year?
“I think Ed Kennedy improved a lot through the off-season and into the season. He missed the back part of the season through injury but he was making some significant gains. Also, David Vea was another one who matured well throughout the year. He was always a good footballer but he really pigeon-holed his set-piece and that became a little bit more of a focus as the year went on and it certainly added value to his performance. And a guy I’d like to mention from the colts set-up is Ben Starkey. He played a lot in midfield for us in grade this year because we had a few injuries at 12 and 13 but he finished the season back in colts. He was definitely one who stepped up when he was required.”
Players rewarded at the next level:
Lukhan Lealaiauloto-Tui (Queensland Reds); David Horwitz (NSW Country Eagles, NRC & NSW Waratahs); Ned Hannigan (NSW Country Eagles, NRC & NSW Waratahs); Andrew Kellaway (NSW Country Eagles, NRC & NSW Waratahs); Toa Asa (Dax, France); Sam Croke (NSW Country Eagles, NRC & Aussie Sevens); Sam Figg (NSW Country Eagles, NRC & Aussie Sevens); Henry Hutchison (Aussie Sevens); Andrew Deegan (NSW Waratahs Training Squad); Jock Armstrong (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Toa Asa (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Mark Baldwin (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Dashville Kuate (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Will Munro (Greater Sydney Rams, NRC); Peter Nau (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Jack Pennington (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Brogan Roods (NSW Country Eagles, NRC); Mitch Short (NSW Country Eagles, NRC)