Shute Shield 2023: Players to watch next season

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As of this Friday, we’re only 127 sleeps away from the start of the 2023 Shute Shield season on Saturday April 1.

Sure, it might be early for some.

But after the season just gone, the team at Rugby News are already looking forward to more Shute Shield action.

Recently, we spoke to all 12 Shute Shield coaches from 2022 and asked them which of their players we should keep an eye on next season and who deserves a crack at the next level.

Eastern Suburbs

“One guy who I think is an outstanding talent and who I think will develop into a fantastic player is young Archie Gavin,” returning coach Simon Kneebone said.

“He’s a workhorse and when you look at the stats, he’s got a really high tackle rate, he does a massive amount of work around the field.

“He’s only 22, 23 and he’s working really hard already and I think he can go on and do big things.

“The other guy who looks really impressive is a young Australian hooker who returned from France towards the back end of the year named Julian Heaven.

“He’s been training the house down and looks in great shape already. He wants to push through to the next level and I think he’s got the mindset and the skillset to do it.”

Eastwood

“The one guy that I think the Super Rugby coaches should be looking at is Ratu Tuisese. He finished second in the Catchpole (Medal) and was a clear standout for us,” Woodies coach Ben Batger said.

“A lot of people don’t know that 2022 was only his third year playing in the forwards and only his fourth year of rugby so to be the second best player in the competition with limited rugby experience, it’s pretty impressive and he’s got a lot of upside.

“Zac Hickey is another player to watch. He played about 10 first grade games for us this year and is a big 6’3, 100 kilo outside back. He’s got a lot of potential and stamped himself in first grade this season.”

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Gordon

“I don’t really like putting players above each other but I’ll give you one forward and one back,” returning coach Billy Melrose told Rugby News.

“I thought our prop Tristan Fuli had a really good first season in the Shute Shield. He hadn’t played a lot of footy for quite a while before this season and I thought he was fantastic. 

“If he can perform like that again next season, I think he’ll be one to keep an eye on. He’s up in the 130kg plus range, he’s got good footballing ability and he knows how to score a try. 

“In the backs, Alesana Pohla has a big future. He played the Grand final off the bench with two broken bones in his elbow, which not many people knew. He also played with a broken knuckle from round nine. 

“We weren’t able to start him in the grand final because of the pain he was in and throughout the season he wasn’t really able to use his best weapon, which is his right hand fend. 

“He’s best level footy is right up there and he’s still developing, he’s only played 20 first grade games.

Hunter

“There’s a few of them to be honest,”returning coach Scott Coleman said.

“Donny Freeman at flanker and Phil Bradford at hooker stand out.

“Donny finished third in the Catchpole Medal and was a really consistent performer all year, he only missed one game. He’s a solid on the ball No.7.

“Phil Bradford was the competition’s leading try scorer as a hooker. He just goes all day, he’s tough as nails and actually played a few games with broken ribs this year.”

Manly

“Like all coaches, I’d love all our boys to get a go but it was great to see a few of our guys that stood up and performed this year get an opportunity,” newly appointed Manly coach Chris Delooze said.

“I believe we have a number of players that have huge amounts of potential. If they can build consistency to their game, they could go on to play professional rugby, ideally within the Australian systems”.

“I would love to see Max Douglas perform really well over in Japan and then return to Australian rugby because as a genuine lock, I think he’s got so much potential and I believe he can go all the way with the likes of the Langi Gleeson’s of the world.

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Northern Suburbs

“Boston Kerapa had an incredible season in his first year out of colts,” Norths coach Zak Beer said.

“He was someone that wasn’t really in the mix when it came to rep teams over the past few years, but he’s a perfect example of the type of player that this competition can help produce.

“He started all but one game this year, which he missed through concussion, and that’s pretty impressive for anyone, let alone a forward in his first season in grade. He forced his way into the team over some guys with quite a bit of first grade experience and retained his spot all year.

“He’s still raw and he’s already hard at work now for next season.

“Reece Mau’u is another who had a fantastic year and he deserved his spot in the North Harbour team picked recently. He’s a student of the game and he’s really diligent in his preparation. He can play wing, fullback or centre and will only continue to get better.

“The other player who I thought was really good and perhaps a bit unlucky to miss out on that North Harbour side was Charlie Jeavons-Fellows. He missed a few games with some head knocks but probably deserved to get picked otherwise.

“I think he’s right in the mix with some of the best backrowers in the competition and he’s going to be a future leader of this club.”

Randwick

“There are quite a few to be honest that could play at the next level. Nick Chan, Dan O’Brien, Christian Poidevin, Benny Houston,” departing coach Ben McCormack told Rugby News.

“I think Yass (Christian Yassmin) is capable of playing professional footy as well.

“There’s always timing and an element of luck when it comes to professional footy but I think if those boys continue to work their asses off, they’ll certainly make the most of any opportunities that come.”

Southern Districts

“It’s hard to look past Greg Foe and some of his performances towards the back end of the season,” returning Director of Rugby Matt Barr told Rugby News.

“He came from nowhere and ended up finishing third in the Catchpole Medal and I think almost all of his points came at the backend of the season.

“We’re still not sure if Greg will be back or not. He’s at the twilight of his career and he’s got some opportunities to coach back in New Zealand but we’d also love him to consider transitioning into coaching after a few more seasons here.

“He was in the mix to be picked in the North Harbour v South Harbour fixture.

“We’ve also got a few guys on the fringes of Super Rugby. Conor Young, Sama Malolo and Blake Schoupp. Blake has just signed with the Brumbies and Conor and Sama are both close.

“This year, we’ve also seen Jed Holloway and Matt Gibbon debut for the Wallabies and we saw Nathan Lawson score the winning try for the Aussie 7s in Hong Kong last weekend.

“All three of those players came through our colts program and moved into grade and I think that’s evidence that we can be a really strong development club.

Sydney University

“A bunch of guys have taken up opportunities elsewhere already,” departing coach Sean Hedger told Rugby News.

Will Goddard is heading overseas, so is Eddie Poolman. I’m really pleased to see Charlie Hancock get an opportunity at the Western Force. He was outstanding at prop all year, even when he had to play 80 minutes which he did for a lot of the year.

“There are a few others that are probably one more solid year of first grade away. Angus Allen and Sevele Papillon are both really promising players. I think Pappy is training with the Force over summer actually.

“I’m also glad to see Henry Robertson get another chance at Super Rugby in Perth.

“Darcy Breen is another young prop who will continue to develop. Sammy Talakai spent a lot of time with him and was full of praise for Darcy, which is a pretty good indication that he’s got something.”

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Warringah

“It was great to see Sateki Latu perform so well this year and then pick up an EDS (Elite Development Squad) contract with the Waratahs for next year. That’s a great reward for him,” returning coach Mike Ruthven said.

“Conor Hickey also had an incredible year and earned the Shute Shield Rookie of the Year award. He’s a guy that would really thrive if he got an opportunity at the next level.

“I thought Wes Thomas’ game went to a new level this year. He’s a different footballer now and he’s working really hard on his craft. He’s so impactful around the field and it’d be great to see him get an opportunity.

“Esera Chee-Kam also got a little taste playing in the Waratahs trial against the Brumbies a few weeks ago. He’s another really talented guy who works really hard and wouldn’t look out of place in a professional environment.”

West Harbour

“I think Justin Masters deserves a crack at the next level,” departing coach Joe Barakat said.

“He’s one of those players that might make a mistake and lose you a game, but he’ll probably win you three games off his own back as well. He’s a gutsy ball runner and he’s a great defender. He’s got fantastic feet and skills, he just needs to become more consistent and make the right decisions more often.

“We’ve also got a 21-year old Fijian winger named Jiale Dawai who is incredible. He broke his arm in two places in a trial match against Hunter earlier this year and missed most of the season but he’d already scored three tries that game before he got injured.

“He’s a fantastic rugby player and he looks like he’s got spiders on him most the time. He also goes looking for the ball a lot which is great to see in a winger.

“He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

“At lock, Cam Signorini came across to us from Manly and I think he’s going to develop a lot over the next two or so years. He learnt a lot off Paddy (McBryde) this year and will be better for it.

“Siketi Tevao is a prop and another 21-year old who came across from New Zealand this year. I hope he makes West Harbour his home for the next 10 years while he pushes and players at a higher level.”

Western Sydney 

“Manasa Rokosuka was a standout for us, I think he played every game this year,” Two Blues coach Sailosi Tagicakibau.

He’d been a fringe first grader at Eastwood and Gordon previously but he took his game and his work rate to a new level this year.

“Kaynan Siteine-Tua won our Player of the Year award this year at loosehead prop. It was his first season in the Shute Shield and we weren’t really sure what to expect from Kaynan when he came across from New Zealand because club rugby is so different over there.

“He played every game and played 80 minutes most weeks, which is incredible for a front rower. He’s now in the mix for a spot in the Waratahs extended squad and I think he’s only going to get better next season.

“Then obviously we had Tom Curtis come over as a young flyhalf from the UK. He had to leave late in the year because he got called up into Sale’s top squad and he’s been getting some game time in the Premiership since.

“The coaches over there were blown away with how much he learnt and how much he improved during his time over here and I think that shows it worked for both parties, which is great.

“Our guys also really benefited and learnt from his professionalism on and off the field.”

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