Shute Shield: Near enough not good enough for improving Gordon side desperate for success

Gordon were the big improvers of the 2019 Shute Shield season, jumping from last spot in 2018 to finish just one competition point short of a spot in the playoffs a year later. 

But near enough isn’t good enough according to the Stags, who kickstarted their 2020 campaign with a tour to the US late last year. 

“It was an awesome trip and that’s exactly what club rugby is all about,” coach Darren Coleman told Rugby News. 

“We had a good mixture of first to fourth grade players on a two and half week tour. We went to some really fun cities, played some good rugby and enjoyed spending time with one another.”

Coleman said the goal of the trip was to tighten bonds between players across the grades at Chatswood Oval and to build on the success from 2019 in his second year at the club. 

“The Club Championship is our main goal. We moved up to second last year but like the rest of the competition, we’re chasing Sydney Uni across the grades. 

“We’re starting in a much better position this year compared to last. I know the majority of the playing group and they know me, so there are definite advantages in that. Last year our main goal was to be competitive in every match and to never quit, whereas this year we want to turn that competitiveness into wins, particularly in first grade.”

The turnaround at Chatswood last season was rather remarkable, resulting in a third grade premiership and a second grade minor premiership and Coleman seems confident the club’s upward trend will continue. 

“I don’t think we’ll have any (second year syndrome). In first grade, we fell just short of the playoffs and that left a really bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. 

“There’s been strong drive off the back of that to not just be a playoff team, but to be a good playoff team, so the desire is still there.”

Gordon will need to do so without a host of big names though following the departures of a number of key players including Robbie Coleman, Tautalatasi Tasi, Harry Rorke, Cam Holt, Jake Abel and Mike Molloy. 

“That’s the nature of Shute Shield, you’ve always got guys moving on but that opens up opportunities for fresh blood to push through with plenty of enthusiasm. 

“Our colts program has had three solid seasons in a row now and the guys coming up into grade this year are really exciting. 

“Probably more important though are the guys we’ve got going into their second year of grade. Guys like Tom Silk, Hugh Margin and Ollie Smeallie were the nucleus of the minor premiership winning second grade team last year. 

“They all had a taste of first grade last year but I think they’ll really make their mark this season.”

After an in-depth season review, Coleman concluded that his side didn’t score enough points from their maul and didn’t convert enough opportunities when they entered the attacking zone last season. 

“We were really poor in the last quarter of games. I think statistically we were second last in the competition in the final 20 minutes, so that’s something we need to change. 

“It was probably a mixture of lacking fitness and lacking the ability to find a way to win in those tight matches. 

“We also didn’t kick much at all last year, so potentially we also ran ourselves out of puff by playing with the ball in hand too much in the opening 60 minutes.”

While they didn’t kick the ball in play much, the coach said he thinks he overused sharpshooter Sean Kearns and opted for penalty goals too often.

“We finished with three tries in seven matches last year and missing those bonus points came back to bite us, particularly when we just fell short of the playoffs (one competition point). 

“Then we had nine tight losses and we scored three tries in five of those games so it was a bit of a double edged sword. We weren’t aggressive enough early in the games and then we weren’t clinical enough at the end.”

While he seems confident his team can turn that around this year, Coleman said he’s expecting an even tougher Shute Shield competition again in 2020. 

“There are some interesting changes at Manly and Norths. Then from what you can see from the outside, things look good at Souths and Wests so that’s going to squash the comp up even more. 

“The early finish of Super Rugby will also make a big difference. If the Tahs don’t make the playoffs, we’ll have those guys returning to sides by round nine which makes it a different competition. 

“You’ve got to think Uni are the team to beat again, but it’s going to be tight.”