Shute Shield Round 5 Match Previews: A round to split the contenders and pretenders

A month into the Shute Shield season, there’s not a whole lot separating the majority of sides and it’s still too tough to gauge who the contenders and pretenders are.

Round five will hopefully help with that, with five matches that should give fans some clarity around their side’s chances.

We spoke to all the teams to get the inside word ahead of their matches on Saturday.

Photo: Adam MacDonald

Eastern Suburbs v West Harbour

Easts were considered premiership favourites by some after their impressive first round win over Sydney Uni, but have lost three on the trot since then. 

On Anzac Day, they were a long way from their best for a third straight week and were beaten by a desperate Randwick side 25-13. 

“We were our own worst enemies early in that game and we didn’t convert any pressure into territory or points,” Easts coach Pauli Taumoepeau said. 

“By the second half Randwick had all the momentum and we weren’t able to find a way back.”

Despite dropping to ninth on the ladder Taumoepeau said it wasn’t panic stations at Woollahra just yet. 

“We’ve played 4 games in an 18 game season that determines the playoffs, so there’s a long way to go. I’m confident we have what it takes to turn our season around.”

With the Waratahs in South Africa, Taumoepeau has made a number of changes to his starting side but said that presented a great opportunity for his other players to step up. 

“Will Maddocks is one everyone is excited to see. He brings some real speed into our attack and some handy skills. I’m looking forward to him expressing all of that on Saturday.”

West Harbour jumped into the top six with a bonus point win over Western Sydney last week. 

“It was an important win to keep some momentum going. We’ve been known to make the Two Blues clash a real battle for us and we couldn’t afford to let them get one over us,” Pirates coach Mark Gudmunson said. 

After starting the season with close to an entirely new starting XV, the coach said combinations are improving each week as his players get used to the standard of Shute Shield rugby. 

“Noah Cooper at fullback has been really impressive. He’s a calm voice of reason from the back and always helps the team get back into a rhythm when things turn bad.”

Despite Easts’ recent form, Gudmunson said he’s prepared his side to play a team that many considered premiership favourites just a few weeks ago. 

“Even with some of their ‘so called’ stars out, sometimes the guys that are in the team environment every day are a better fit, so I don’t believe any of the chat about them being a weaker team. 

“They’ll come out at home firing.”

Gordon v Sydney Uni

Gordon once again showed glimpses of a side that could be a real threat in this competition against Warringah last week, but were unable to play out the 80 minutes in a 25-13 loss to last year’s grand finalists. 

“It was a similar story to our loss against Souths in our first game,” Darren Coleman told Rugby News. 

“We led at times, had enough position and possession, our effort and commitment was good but we just weren’t clinical enough in the clutch, particularly in our A zone. 

“We know we are competitive, now we just need to learn how to win tight games.”

The Stags will find out exactly how competitive they are when they take on a Sydney Uni side,  looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Eastwood last week. 

Robbie Coleman will start the match after returning from a hamstring injury on the bench last week, as will Robbie Abel who has a week away from Melbourne Rebels duties. 

“Uni play the full 80 and bring a good level of fitness and energy to their game. They know exactly how they want to attack in various field positions,” Coleman continued. 

“We need to match their movement, speed and aggression and execute when our chances pop up.”

The Students dropped their second match of the season in Mudgee last weekend but coach Rob Taylor doesn’t seem too concerned, particularly as he continues to blood young talent. 

“I’m really happy with the guys that are transitioning into first grade and playing really well,” 

“We’ve got a few guys debuting in first grade each week at the moment and those new players are really standing up, which is pleasing.” 

Declan Moore, Jay Spencer, Nick Coaldrake and Hugh Summerhayes have all been added to the starting Uni forward pack, as Taylor continues to build depth in his top squad. 

“I’d like to see a determined performance this week, a solid set piece and a willingness to move the ball around.”

Manly v Southern Districts

Manly and Southern Districts meet in the match of the round on Ladies Day in one of the more intriguing clashes of the year so far. 

Both sides are in the top six and have shown glimpses of their best in the opening month, but it’s still tough to get a gauge on where they’re both at. 

The Marlins matched competition leaders Norths for the opening hour at North Sydney Oval last week but were unable to put the match away when it mattered. 

“We blinked around that 60-65 minute mark and got stung by a good side. There wasn’t a lot in it, but second is second,” Manly coach Billy Melrose told Rugby News. 

Aussie 7s recruit Josh Turner has been named on the wing for the second straight week and will add spark to a Manly attack that still hasn’t clicked, according to Melrose. 

“It’s coming along but we’re not keeping the scoreboard operator as busy as we’d like,” he said. 

“You always expect a tight, tough match against Souths so you’ve got to go and create your own path. When your chances come, you’ve got to take them.”

Souths spent time away from the field during their bye round last weekend and while the Rebels are yet to lose in 2019, Saturday will be their first big test of the season. 

“We’ve been clunky and we know that but fortunately we’ve been winning on the back of all the hard work that the boys put in during preseason,” Rebels coach Don Mackinnon said. 

Souths will be without centre Denny Godinet and in form winger Will Thomas, who is back in the UK to play with the Welsh Sevens side in the final two World Series Sevens tournaments this year. 

Faluela Finau, who suffered a horrific broken leg last season, returns for his first match in first grade, while Cooper Harris will also make his top grade debut on the wing. 

Western Sydney v Eastwood

Western Sydney were disappointing in a 41-15 loss to West Harbour at the new Parramatta Stadium last weekend but will have plenty to play for on Back To Parramatta Day at Cumberland on Saturday. 

While the result was never really in doubt after a slow start, the Two Blues showed fight in the second half and scored two late tries to add some respectability to the scoreline. 

They host an Eastwood side who they have a strong record against in recent times and will be desperate to cause an upset and jump off the bottom of the ladder. 

“Results wise, we’ve not really clicked yet,” Two Blues captain Adrian Musico said.

“But there’s a lot of positive signs and I actually think the roster we’ve got now is the strongest we’ve had in a few years.

“It is still only early days, four rounds in, but we do need to start putting some points on the board so hopefully we can kick-start that this weekend against Eastwood.”

That may be easier said than done though against a Woodies outfit who produced their best performance of the year to beat Sydney Uni in Mudgee last weekend. 

“There’s a really good feeling around the place after Mudgee,” assistant coach Andrew Clyne told Rugby News. 

“We had a few challenges thrown at us injury wise so it was really pleasing to respond from the Norths’ defeat with a great attitude and a win on the road.”

While Clyne acknowledged that the Two Blues will lift on Back to Parramatta Day, he was hesitant to call Western Sydney their “bogey side.”

“Perhaps in previous years they were, but the two squads are quite different now. 

“We had a solid win against them last year and hopefully with some new personnel and after a good win last weekend, we can get that monkey off our back for good.”

Gun centre Enoka Muliufi returns at inside centre after missing last week’s clash against Uni and will partner Barton Picone in the midfield, who returns to his preferred spot at No.13. 

“We need to keep things really simple, play with the ball in hand and build pressure. We’ve been working hard on our set piece and hopefully the backs can launch and score some points off that.” 

Randwick v Northern Suburbs

After claiming their first win of the season against arch rivals Easts on Anzac Day, Randwick coach Hadley Jackson said morale around Coogee has been high this week. 

“It’s always nice to win a local derby and we had some good performances right across the club, so it’s been a good week of training,” he said. 

“Now we need to take another step forward in our performance this week and I’ve got no doubt that we’ve got it in us.” 

The upset win was timely, but the Wicks are still 10th after the opening month and host the competition leaders at Coogee on Saturday.

“It’s a big challenge but it’s one our boys are really looking forward to, particularly at Coogee.”

Norths claimed an “ugly” win against Manly at home last weekend, but coach Nick Hensley said a performance like that wasn’t such a bad thing at this time of the year. 

“Things weren’t quite going to plan last week but we hung in there and found a way to win. That’s important from a confidence perspective. 

“Later in the year there’s going to be games where we don’t play perfect but now we know that  we don’t need to panic, we just need to stay focused and back ourselves to find a solution.”

While Hensley was full of praise for Manly, the coach said his side lacked intensity last week, something they can’t afford to do again when they travel to play Randwick. 

“They’re a side stacked full of quality players across the grades. Randwick always lift at Coogee, so we’ll have to manage the pressure and energy they bring to the pitch, then take care of a few individual players who can be dangerous if left unattended.”

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