Shute Shield: Rebels look within to spark a revival to end title drought

By MARK CASHMAN

The Covid-19 crisis has seen many things change in rugby but Southern Districts head coach Todd Louden is of the opinion that the revival of Shute Shield clubs’ community connections will be one of the big ticks from this testing period.

The Rebels looked long and hard at where they sat in the Shire at the end of last season and decided that they needed to fortify their links with the community and get back to basics – grow from within

After playing in the 2012 and 2014 grand finals the Rebels’ results at Shute Shield level have dropped away in recent seasons as opportunity at the next level drew players away from the week to week at Forshaw.

They finished ninth in 2019 with six wins and were four good wins away from playing finals last season.

“In many ways it was one of those perfect storm sort of scenarios where Super Rugby quality players took opportunities and the colts that were coming through needed time to make their mark in first grade,” Louden said.

“They weren’t getting that time and if you keep tipping players in at the top level it just wasn’t a sustainable way of going about things.

“So there has been a major rethink about where we sat with our juniors and the way that our colts are ushered through into the senior grades.”

The Rebels have a vibrant juniors nursery with Menai, the Sylvania Bulldogs, Burraneer, Oatley and Rockdale all well run and successful clubs in their own rights.

“They have all been a great source of talent over the years and with everything that is happening in rugby at the moment it just makes sense that clubs like us to play a role in bringing the next generation through,” Louden added.

“We have also made the conscious decision to recruit only from within Australia and have concentrated on aspirational and ambitious players in that 20 to 23 years age group so they back up what we are trying to do here at Forshaw.”

The Rebels have been blessed by the fact that they have had control of their home ground through the pandemic.

“It’s been challenging that is for sure but it’s been the same for all the coaches out there,” Louden said.

“Zoom meetings and social distancing, it’s all been part of what we have done but now it’s all about focussing on what comes next.”

That’s a bit of contact at training, a trial against Manly on Saturday (July 11) and then the start of the Shute Shield against Eastwood at home on July 18.

“Pre-pandemic I would have said that our big push was to play finals but we have widened those goals to work our way towards building to 2021,” Louden said.

“We’ve been working hard on our defence like most clubs but if I had to identify our style of play I would say that we have taken a lot from the way that the Exeter Chiefs play in the English premiership.

“So hard to tell about the way that season will roll out but I reckon we’ll be throwing out a few rocks and diamonds through the year.

“We’re all just hoping that there will be a few more diamonds than rocks but that’s the way it is with a young group. It will be exciting that’s for sure.”

Marcus Carbonne will lead the club from the first grade back row and it’s certain that his skill in bringing the old and the young together will be tested on a weekly basis.

Nathan Lawson will be one of those youngsters coming through after he swapped his No.7 jersey for the outside centre spot, a move that Louden has been impressed with.

Lock Isoa Nasilasila is another who will come through after starring at Westfield Sports High and a number of seasons with Fiji A development team.

Harry McClennan will be another to watch and play at openside after coming back from the Newtown Jets league side.

Liam Moseley is another classy addition after playing out of Nudgee College in Brisbane and being in the Queensland Reds, Brisbane Broncos and Brisbane Lions development squad all at the same time.

There have been some exits with Sham Vui moving on and Ratu Thiesu heading over to Eastwood.

Forshaw will always be a tough place to play but how they grow in the shortened Shute Shield season will be fascinating to watch.