Shute Shield 2023: What this year’s coaches are expecting 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

“The mood in the dressing sheds after our semi final loss against Eastwood was pretty dark and we turned that around pretty quickly with all the boys showing that they were committed and keen to go better next year,” returning coach Simon Kneebone said.

“The group is really tight and we’re working hard to build the hunger that is needed to be more successful than we were in 2022.

“They’re also committed to playing an expansive style so they all want to get their skillsets to a level that allows us to move the ball around and play plenty of rugby. That’s what we’ll be focussing on for the next few months.

“As for the competition, that’s a tough one. I think it’s going to be even more competitive and when you consider we lost five or six games by just a few points, it shows if you can get it right on the day then you can go deep into the competition.

“I hear there are going to be some fairly talented players coming from right across the world to play in the Shute Shield next year because the competition is in such a healthy state and that’s only going to lift the standard further.”

Eastwood

“I hope we can expect the Woods to go one better and get into that grand final and hopefully win it in 2023. It was a really tough loss to take, that loss to Uni and the boys are highly motivated as a result of that,” Woodies coach Ben Batger said.

“We’ll work hard over the offseason, set our expectations high and hopefully find a way to match them.

“For the competition, a lot of other coaches are predicting that it will keep getting closer and closer. I’m not 100% sure of that because I don’t think the models that some of the clubs are relying on are sustainable.

“I think it’ll be another ripping competition though and ever year it seems to get better and better. Whether it’s the closeness of results, the development of young players or the talent scattered throughout the competition, the Shute Shield just keeps going from strength to strength and it’s great to be a part of it.”

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Gordon

“I can’t see the competition being much different. There might be different teams finishing in different positions, because you’ve only really got to lose a few or gain a few players to move up or down in a competition as tight as this,” returning coach Billy Melrose told Rugby News.

“I’ve been told that the finals will go back to the top six next year but I hope they stick with a top eight. I’m not just saying that because we benefited from it, but I think in a competition as tight as this one, a top eight is warranted. 

“It’s going to be frighteningly close again. With so many moving on from top teams to go to professional leagues and the former lower teams with significant resources, it’s really a very even comp.

“For Gordon, hopefully we’ll develop a few more of our younger players. I think that’s what we need to continue doing. We’ve done okay in recent years,  we won in 2020 and came close this year. 

“Whenever you lose a grand final it always hurts and it’s hard to get over so hopefully that drives our guys to want to go one better next season.”

Hunter

“I think we’ll be new and improved again and a lot more professional. But we’ll keep that tough, never say die attitude and we’ll stay in the fight for the whole 80 minutes,” returning coach Scott Coleman said.

“We’re aiming to finish in the top four and I’m confident that we’ll get there.

“The competition will be tight again. It’s the silly season at the moment, you never know where players are going to be at this stage but the early chatter is that it’ll all be pretty even again in 2023.”

Manly

“It’s going to be another interesting and exciting Shute Shield season and it will be intriguing to see how all the player recruitment and retention ends up across the competition,” newly appointed Manly coach Chris Delooze said.

“We’ve retained the vast majority of our players right across the club and we’re thrilled for the opportunity to build on the culture that Blakey helped create this year as there were some very positive foundations laid.

“For us, this year we wanted to compete in every match whereas the focus will certainly change moving forward. I’m excited by the continuity of the coaching staff and our squad and with the  inclusion of some very strong colts, I can’t wait for 2023.”

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Northern Suburbs

“We’ve just had the tightest Shute Shield on record and I think it’ll only get tighter again. The teams at the bottom continue to get better and they’re utilising their resources well, which is great for the competition,” Norths coach Zak Beer said.

“From a Norths perspective, we’re in a strong position and we’ll retain the vast majority of our first grade squad. Angus Sinclair is retiring but besides that we’ll have everyone else back.

“We’re still only in year two or three with this young group and we will continue to evolve and hopefully be in a position against next year.

“We had a brilliant 2021, which was cut short with Covid, then we fell short in the preliminary final this year so I’m confident we’re on the right track and we’ll be in the mix again next season.”

Randwick

“The competition gets better every year, everyone can see that,” departing coach Ben McCormack told Rugby News.

“There are quite a few coaching changes across the competition so it will be interesting to see how that impacts different clubs. That will create a bit of unknown because every new coach typically brings some fresh ideas to their club.

“I think Randwick is in a fortunate position because the club has had the same DNA forever and I don’t think that will ever change, which is great for the game.

“I’m still not sure who will be coaching first grade next year but I’m hoping they can find a way to squeeze an extra few per cent out of the players because we’re not far off as a group.

“But you can safely assume that you’ll see the same entertaining brand of rugby from Randwick next season.”

Southern Districts

“It’s exciting because while we did finish bottom of the table, we weren’t a long way off which is testament to the closeness of the competition,” returning Director of Rugby Matt Barr told Rugby News.

“We know that we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us but we also take a lot of confidence out of the fact that we weren’t a long way off and there’s no reason why we can’t be back playing semi finals footy next year. From there, anything can happen.”

Sydney University

“I expect more of the same from Uni. Even though there are a large number of players moving on, reserve grade were in the grand final this year and there is a lot of young talent in that side. For the majority of the season, the reserve grade team had five to seven colts in the starting side,” departing coach Sean Hedger told Rugby News.

“I think Jude Gibbs will push into the playmaker role in first grade and he’ll do a great job. The fact that Damien Hill is stepping up from assistant coach to head coach, I think they’ll have a fair bit of continuity there which will help. Mark Bakewell is also staying on as forwards coach, he’s fantastic around the set piece.

“For the competition, it’s hard to say at this point. I think Western Sydney and Hunter will continue to improve, it’ll be interesting to see how Souths bounce back with a bit more stability at the club.

“I think Easts might be the club that really pushes on. They won three and a half of the seven premierships this year, one was a joint premiership. They won reserve grade and they had a lot of young guys in first grade as well.”

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Warringah

“We certainly weren’t happy with how we finished up this year so the expectation for us is that we go deeper into the finals next year,” returning coach Mike Ruthven said.

“We’ve got some transition in the coaching staff. Cam Treloar is moving on to take on the head coach role at West Harbour and we’re really excited for him. We’re also really excited to replace Cam with Scott Fardy and we’re looking forward to seeing what he will bring to the group with all his experience.

“We want to continue to develop our game and build a better level of consistency so that we’re in a position to go further into the finals.

“In terms of the competition, I think it’ll be equally if not more competitive than it was this year. The standard that was set this season was really exciting and I think every club will want to improve on that in 2023.”

West Harbour

“I think the gap between the top teams and the bottom teams will narrow even further,” departing coach Joe Barakat said.

“They said the average margin in games this year was 10 points, I think it’ll be tighter again next year based on what you saw from sides like us, Hunter and Western Sydney towards the end of the season.

“West Harbour will be in and around the finals if they’re able to hold on to most of the group from this year and if they fill a few key positions. Cam will bring a few guys with him as well, which will help.

“I think we built a really strong foundation right across the club this year. We didn’t forfeit a game in any grade, our colts did really well and I think things are just going to continue to look so much better for the club moving forward.

“We’ll also be back playing at home at Concord Oval, playing out of one of the best facilities in the competition. It’s unreal and I can’t wait for everyone to see it next year.”

Western Sydney 

“It’s hard to know after this year. They’ve moved it back to a six team playoff series so that obviously makes it tougher for us, but we want to be in the top six as a minimum,” Two Blues coach Sailosi Tagicakibau.

“I think we’re very capable of that. We lost a few games early in the season while we were still forming combinations and that really cost us in the end.

“If we picked up those games against sides that we felt we probably should have won against, then we would have finished in the top six.

“In saying that, we can only control what we can control and that comes down to how hard we work on the training park. If we do that and create a good environment, then the results will most likely take care of themselves.

“As for the competition, I don’t think anyone expected it to go the way it did this year. It was incredible to be involved in and I think we’re all really looking forward to doing it again next season.”

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