Shute Shield: Muggo says Penrith Emus are ready for their baptism of fire

By MARK CASHMAN

Penrith Emus head coach John Muggleton would probably have preferred a softer landing in their return to Shute Shield competition but as he said this week it what it is.

The Emus cop the bye in Round One on July 18 but after that they take on Northern Suburbs, Southern Districts, defending premiers Sydney Uni and Randwick in the space of a month.

That’s two top four clubs from 2019 (Sydney Uni and Norths) and the others (Souths and Randwicks) only a win or two out of the finals last season.

“Yeah it certainly is a real baptism of fire,” Muggleton said.

“But we’ve just got to work our way through that period and then aim at being as competitive as we can be at the back end of the competition.

“We have been at it for six weeks and to be honest we have just worried about ourselves and preparing to play a brand of footy that is hard to beat.

“We are getting there but it certainly hasn’t been easy with all the ramifications of Covid-19 and the recruitment constraints.”

Penrith were unable to bring players back to the foot of the mountains if they had already committed to clubs for 2020.

It’s been two years since the Emus last played in the Shute Shield after being excluded in 2018 by the Sydney Rugby Union and there are numerous doubters out there even now.

Muggleton argues that previous coaching regimes haven’t gone about things in the right way and not valued many of the simpler things.

“Penrith in many ways have been their worst enemy,” he said.

“Coaches before me have got their teams to throw the ball around and generally exhausted their troops by the time second half of games have come around.

“I’d like to play a skilful game through the forwards and the backs will get the ball when they deserve it. The better we get at that then the better we will feel about ourselves.

“Attack from turnovers is the hardest thing to defend against and that is where teams in the past have really been hurt.

“We’re not going to be punching holes in attack early in games so we just have to play to where we are stronger.”

Muggleton was hoping to have former Test and Waratahs backrower Wycliff Palu on his playing roster but commitments in Japan meant  he couldn’t put his hand up to play.

Palu has lived in the area for a number of years and is a well respected member of the Polynesain community in Sydney west.

“But he’s 100 percent behind us and he’s been talking to the boys via Zoom and all those online forums,” Muggleton added.

“I’d like to think that when he is back in Australia and finished his commitments in Japan that he will have a continuing presence at the club.”

The playing roster is very much an unknown commodity at this stage but there is some class and experience in the coaching ranks.

Daniel Geurs is handling the forwards while Doug Ryan will do the backs. Chris Siale will float between the two looking at skills while Matt ‘Bubba’ Ryan will be the club scrum coach. Mick Donaldson will work with all of the above and steer the reserve grade side.

Muggleton has just finished a three-year stint at Toyota Verblitz in Japan and last coached in Australia in the National Rugby Championship when he headed up the Greater Sydney Rams.

He says the presence of Penrith in the Sydney rugby mainstream is a must for the game to grow.

“We’ve got to have a Penrith because otherwise we’re just handing over a rich vein of talent to rugby league and AFL.

“The Penrith juniors are doing a great job and just last year our Under 15 side won the State Championships and for that group and others we need a senior team doing well that they aspire to.

“Otherwise they will just head further east to play their footy.”

The Penrith presence is only guaranteed for the Covid-19 affected Shute Shield but over the next couple of months Muggleton is hoping to put a case together that will impress the decision maker at the SRU.

There is certainly community support for a senior rugby club in the area and the commercial support is there – over to you Emus!