Shute Shield Round 11: Easts & Souths, Wicks & Gordon battle for top six spot

Just three competition points separates four side currently in a battle for the sixth and final spot in this year’s playoffs. 

Easts host Souths and Randwick take on Gordon in critical matches this weekend. We spoke to the coaches to get the inside word ahead of Saturday. 

Eastern Suburbs v Southern Districts

Both Easts and Souths will be desperate to return to the winner’s circle when they meet at Woollahra on Saturday. 

Easts let a 14 point lead slip in a disappointing loss to a Norths side that refused to go away last Saturday and have now dropped their last two matches. 

“It was a better performance when you compare it to the Gordon game but it’s still another loss. I thought both teams defended really well in a pretty direct contest,” Easts coach Pauli Taumoepeau said. 

“Each week we’re creating some really solid opportunities but then we find a way to undo that good work with a system or skill error. If we’re going to be stopped, we want the opposition to do it, not ourselves.”

Easts are sixth, just three competition points ahead of Souths in ninth and Taumoepeau said he’s expecting a tight contest. 

“They’ll be very physical and they’ll be hungry for a win. A bit like Gordon and Randwick we can’t get out enthused. 

“That’s been our issue this year against teams needing a win but I guess now we’re in the ‘needing wins’ category too. I look forward to seeing how my blokes respond to that.”

If Easts need a win, then Souths desperately need a win on Saturday after they were belted by Eastwood at home last week in their sixth straight loss. 

“We just didn’t turn up to play rugby. We know what we’re capable of and last week was a long way from that,” Rebels coach Donny Mackinnon said. 

“We’ve got to get back to playing the way we want to play and start backing ourselves again.”

Mackinnon has named flanker Sam Latunipulu, older brother of centre Apo, to start his first match in first grade in a number of years and seems confident the Rebels can still turn things around this season. 

“I believe we can. We’ve created quite a hill for ourselves to climb but we just have to take things game by game.”

Gordon v Randwick

Gordon somehow found a way to lose to Manly last weekend, despite leading 27-10 with 15 minutes remaining. 

“It’s becoming an all too familiar story,” a frustrated Stags coach Darren Coleman said. 

“That’s the fourth game this year that we’ve ended up less than five metres short of scoring a match winning try when the final whistle went. 

“But it’s our own fault, we need to be better in the A zone in the clutch to win games and take advantage of all the other good work that we’re doing. 

Despite falling to another tight loss, Coleman said spirits are still high at Chatswood, with the Stags still in the hunt to play finals footy after finishing last in 2018. 

“I couldn’t be prouder of the group. They’re not content with being competitive. 

“The “C” word (competitive) is a dirty word, but after each tight loss they bounce back, train hard and are keen to make amends. That unbreakable spirit is really growing on me.”

Gordon host a Randwick side on Saturday who fell short against Sydney Uni last week but have won four of their last six matches. 

Both sides sit just outside the top six on 20 competition points, adding further importance to Saturday’s clash as the race to the finals heats up. 

“Randwick are well coached, they’re fit, young and energetic. They don’t have as many stars as past Randwick sides but they play really well as a team so it’ll be a tight contest, as the ladder suggests,” Coleman added. 

Western Sydney v Warringah

After a bye in round 10, Western Sydney will take their clash against Warringah this weekend to Camden. 

Despite being released by the Waratahs on compassionate grounds, centre John Folau has been named to start for Joel Rivers’ side in a sign that he’ll likely play out the season with the Two Blues and attempt to play his way into the Tongan World Cup squad. 

Warringah head into Saturday’s clash as arguably the form team of the competition and haven’t dropped a match since round three in the middle of April. 

Rats coach Mark Gerrard has named flanker Maclean Jones in his starting side for the first time this year. 

The Queenslander has spent time with both the Reds and Waratahs but has missed most of this season through injury. 

Sydney Uni v Manly

Sydney Uni scored 21 unanswered points to set up an impressive 40-18 win over Randwick at Coogee last Saturday, their fourth win on the trot. 

Hooker Tom Horton starred for the Students with three tries in a win that helped the defending premiers secure their spot at the pointy end of the ladder. 

“It was a very pleasing effort from 1-15 and we stuck to a clear gameplan for the majority of the match,” Uni coach Rob Taylor said. 

Matt Sandell, Rohan O’Regan, Rory Suttor and Will McDonnell all return to Taylor’s starting side to face Manly at University Oval on Saturday. 

“We’ve put a lot of focus on our kicking game for Manly and we’re expecting plenty of kicks from them.”

The Marlins claimed a miraculous 31-27 win over Gordon in round 10, scoring three tries in a number of minutes to overcome a 17 point deficit.

“Once you get that momentum, it’s a big factor and sometimes you can’t break it. No matter what the lead is, sometimes one team’s just more focused and clinical and they score the tries,” Manly lock Harry Bergelin said. 

The Marlins have named Sam Lane at fullback after he returned from a stint overseas, but Bergelin said defence was the focus this weekend. 

“After the Rats loss, we realised our big issue was how many points we were leaking so we’ve focused more on defence and ball retention lately.”

“Last week we were still 17 points down so I can’t say we’ve completely figured it out but we’re certainly improving. 

“There’s not better time for us to hit our straps than against Uni.”

West Harbour v Northern Suburbs

West Harbour took it to an in form Warringah side for 80 minutes in a tight 30-24 loss at Rat Park last week but couldn’t land a killer blow in the closing stages. 

“We definitely stayed in the first until the final whistle, which is something we’ve been working really hard on but a few tough decisions at critical times really hurt us,” West Harbour coach Mark Gudmunson said. 

Tiaan Swanepoel continued his good form with the boot, kicking four penalty goals to keep the Pirates in the match, but Gudmunson knows that might not be enough against an impressive Norths side at Concord. 

“They’re a team that plays edge to edge a lot and like to use the speed they have, plus they’ve got a big forward pack that will come at us,” he said. 

“If we make our tackles, get a good share of the ball and get some 50/50 calls though, I’m confident we can win.”

Norths fought back from 14-0 down and kicked two late penalty goals to secure a tight one point win over Easts last weekend and secure second spot on the ladder. 

The Shoreman will be without Hamish Sinclair for Saturday’s match and have named young forward Charlie Jeavons-Fellows to make his run on first grade debut. 

“He’s another of a bunch of young, quality back rowers at the club,” Norths coach Nick Hensley said.

“He’s a local lad who played at Aussie Schools as a hooker before switching to the back row. He came off the bench last week and had a good impact, so he gets rewarded with a start this week.

“I’m really confident he’ll do well, he’s got the goods in all areas of the game, plus he’s got a calm head.”