Shute Shield: Depth and fitness key for Manly under new Marlins coach Matt McGoldrick

After spending more than 20 years in and around Manly Oval, Matt McGoldrick will start the 2020 Shute Shield season as head coach of his beloved Marlins for the very first time. 

A former player, assistant coach, board member and general manager at the club, McGoldrick knows how every part of the Manly organisation works and may just be the man needed to help the Marlins break their long running Shute Shield premiership drought. 

“I coached under Blakey (Phil Blake) for a while, then with Tim Lane and Billy Melrose so they’re three fairly well credentialed, quality coaches who I learnt a lot from so it’s exciting to finally get a chance to take on the job myself,” McGoldrick told Rugby News. 

Manly were beaten by eventual premiers Sydney Uni in the opening week of last year’s playoffs but are looking to return to the top of Sydney club rugby in 2020 on the back of a big summer on the beaches. 

“We’ve never really had a formalised club wide S&C program at Manly. Most of the guys did it on their own and there wasn’t a lot of accountability around it,” McGoldrick explained. 

“So that’s been a big focus this year and everyone has really bought in. It’s not so much the top guys, they’re always working hard. It’s more the guys towards the middle of the squad who have a lot of potential but need that extra work to perform at their best.”

The Marlins fell agonisingly short in a 15-12 loss to Eastwood in the 2015 grand final and claimed the minor premiership in 2014 and 2017, yet they haven’t tasted success in the final game of the season since 1997. 

While McGoldrick agreed that a premiership was long overdue at Manly Oval, he scoffed at suggestions that the Marlins could be labelled “chokers” at the back end of the season. 

“I think we start most years well because we’ve been so blessed with our cohesion. Every year we turn up and we’ve got Sam Lane at 10, Harry Bergelin at No.8, Dan Alley and James Hilterbrand in the forwards. They all know each other inside out and that helps us pick up some wins early on. 

“We’ve always started the year well and then struggled to improve throughout the season. 

“That’s something we need to change because we want to play our best rugby with our best side on the field at the back end of the year.”

McGoldrick said he hoped the renewed focus on strength and conditioning at the club will help build the depth in a squad that he thinks has a strong mix of youth and experience. 

“Beaudein Waaka is over in America and Alex Humphries is in the UK but besides those two, we’ve got everyone back. 

“The senior guys have been fantastic and worked really hard over summer. Sam Lane, James Hilterbrand, Dan Alley, Mick Adams. They’re all looking really fit. 

“Adam Crerer did a 4:22 in the Bronco running test. I googled it and that would be a record at the Crusaders. It was incredible to watch. 

“Then we’ve got young Jack Walsh and Max Douglas in the Waratahs program, they both played colts last year and a number of others moving up into grade. 

“Hunter Ward in the forwards and Yool Yool on the wing are both really impressive. 

“Yool caught a ball at training the other night that was just unbelievable. It looked like it was going miles past him and he jumped up and took it effortlessly. He’s incredibly athletic. 

“Harry Haywood is another young guy, he’s got a bit about him, as does Ben Wood at lock.”

“It’s exciting times, but we haven’t picked a team yet so who knows.”

While McGoldrick said he wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel at Manly in the coming months, he said he would be making some minor changes to the Marlin’s playing style. 

“We probably need to be a little bit more pragmatic at times. We’ve always been able to score points at Manly, but sometimes our out and out attack has come at our own detriment. 

“It’ll be a similar style but we’ll try to tighten things up at times this season.”

The rookie coach said it was hard to predict where his side will sit on the ladder at the end of the regular season but said he expected another tight Shute Shield competition. 

“I think Rats will be really strong. They’ve picked up Wayne Borsack at prop and Seb Wileman is back so I think they’ll be tough to beat. 

“Uni will be Uni, Easts will be strong and Randwick and Souths will improve. It’s going to as tight if not tighter than last year and we won’t be able to take anyone lightly.”