Shute Shield: Ben Batger picks the best Eastwood XV of his time

After reading a fantastic yarn by Josh Holmes on the Northern Beaches Sports Tribune, we thought we’d borrow the concept (with permission) and get players from various Shute Shield clubs to name their best team of all time.

To clarify, this team is from the perspective of the player and will largely feature individuals from that player’s era.

It might not completely fill the void left while the rugby season is on hold, but hopefully it’ll help kill a little time.

By Ben Batger

I’ve been going to TG Millner every week over winter for the last 17 years so it does feel strange to be away from the place during winter.

But that has given me some time and what better way to spend it than by naming the best Eastwood XV since I first started playing grade in 2004 to 2020, where I am currently head coach.

My only criteria for the team below is that I had to have either played with or coached the player.

1. Benn Robinson 

I debuted with Benn back in 2004 and that year it was amazing to watch a 20-year old prop dominate Super Rugby players. Won rookie of the year that year and would go on to play over 70 Tests. A man you wanted to avoid at training, Benn perfected the art of scrummaging, was like another loose forward over the ball and always a popular team mate. Played in three grand finals.

2. Hugh Roach

Hugh was so good around the field that we actually played him at No.7 in a grand final in 2013. He gets the nod over Damien Fitzpatrick and Josh Cullen because at Shute Shield level he could completely dominate games in both attack and defence. Big engine, brilliant ball runner, great over the ball and ferocious defender. Hugh won consecutive grand finals in 2014 and 2015.

3. Aaron Broughton-Rouse

I think he played in five or six grand finals which is an incredible achievement considering the front row depth at Eastwood in the early 2000s. Aaron was Mr. Dependable and was so consistent over a long period of time. He played both sides of the scum and was very mobile for a big man. He was also a very popular team man with incredible Simpsons impersonations.

4. Ben Hand

Has Eastwood in his blood and was the hardworking, no nonsense second rower that every team needs. Brilliant lineout tactician who had a tremendous work rate and always put the team first. Won a grand final in 2011 and had a long career at the Brumbies and Waratahs.

5. Jared Barry

The most feared man in club rugby between 2012 and 2016. Could change the game in the blink of a eye with a big hit or charging run (check out his hit on Lopeti Timani on Youtube).  Was amazingly skilful for a man his side and tremendous character in the change rooms. I wish he got a chance at next level. Won grand finals in 2014 & 2015.

6. Hugh Perret (C)

If you were ever going to war, Hugh Perrett would be the guy you’d want by your side. I played 190 first grade games with him and he never played a bad game. Built like an adonis with tremendous fitness, speed and skill Hugh was the heartbeat and captain of the club from 2007 ti 2015. Won a Catchpole medal and played in four grand final victories. 

Notable mention: Gareth Palamo

7. Chris Alcock

I can still remember a game at Manly Oval against a very good Manly team where he won us the game almost single handily. He could run through a brick wall and was brilliant over the ball. Another one with a brief career at Eastwood but we won 95% of the time when he played. Won a Grand Final in 2011.

Notable mention: Will Brame

8. Scott Fava 

The best player I played with or have coached at Eastwood. Scott was on another level playing Shute Shield and has three consecutive Ken Catchpole Medals and three grand final wins to show for it. As a fullback all I had to do was follow him because I knew he would always bend the defensive line and get an offload. He was nearly the best player on the field every time we played. 

Notable Mentions: Pat Sio and Lachlan McCaffery

9. Nick White

Only had oner year at the Woods in 2011 but what a year it was. White remains undefeated in Eastwood colours and was a key figure in the 2011 grand final win. He transformed the team with his brilliant running, passing and kicking game.  He could also kick goals from beyond 50 metres.

Notable mention: Mick Snowden

10. Tim Donnelly 

This was a hot field with Pierre Hola, Jimmy Hilgendorf and Jai Ayoub also at the cub. But for me, TD takes the honours. He had so many attributes – vision, acceleration, amazing passing game, astute field kicking and brilliant goal kicker. Was also an underrated defender. If was 10cm taller he would of played 100 Super Rugby games. Won 3 grand finals. 

11. Nick Batger

I might be biased here but there was no one I enjoyed playing more with than my brother because it was just like we were in the backyard when we were kids. A very smart footballer with great vision, he would regularly top the try scoring list using a combination of speed and guile. We still laugh how opposition defences would regularly fall for our kick return trick. Won a grand final in 2015. 

Notable mention: Filipo Toala

12. Sione Pikula

The most underrated player I ever played with. Sione Represented Tonga and had a 10-year professional career in France but didn’t get the accolades he deserved in Australia. He couldn’t be tackled one on one, had phenomenal hip strength and was a brutal defender. There’s a reason why we called him the King. Won a grand final in 2011. 

13. Pama Fou

I’m disappointed I never got to play with Pama but it’s been a pleasure to coach his. Another player where injuries ruined his representative career. He only had a short Eastwood career but at his best, Pama was one of best 13s in Australia let alone the Shute Shield. A brilliant defender with a big fend and an amazing offload.

Notable mention: Al McDonald

14. John Grant 

The perfect rugby specimen. At 195cm and 105kg he could choose to run around you or through you. He’s the quickest player I have ever played with and if he got in open space you could just sit back and watch him score. Should of played Super Rugby if not for a bad run with injuries. He also won on a grand final in 2011.

15. Lachie Turner. 

When he burst onto the stage in 2007 he was incredible. Blinding speed and just a great ability to find the try line. As he got older he also became a great kicker and defender and could play No.13, 14 or 15. He also won a grand final in 2011. 

Coaches – Chris Hickey and John Manenti

This is a cop out but I just couldn’t split the two. 

I had Chris at the start of my career and he taught me more about my individual game than anyone else. He was a brilliant tactician who nearly pulled off a miraculous victory in the 2004 grand final by totally reinventing our defensive style in one week. He made five consecutive grand finals I think.

John coached me for or my last 5 years and he was a brilliant man manager and motivator. He got the best out of older players like myself and Hugh Perret while bringing through a tonne of talented youngsters. I believe he has a winning percentage of over 85% in his 5 years as head coach, which is incredible considering we didn’t have many Super Rugby players.