Shute Shield Round 6 Preview: Eastwood battle Easts, Norths host Uni in “moving round”
The 2019 Shute Shield season has been a nightmare for tipsters to date and it doesn’t look like things are going to get any easier.
We spoke to the clubs to find out the latest from each camp ahead of five bumper round six matches this weekend.
Southern Districts v Western Sydney
Southern Districts coach Don Mackinnon said discipline cost his side in last weekend’s two point loss to Manly.
The Rebels received three yellow cards in the match, including one in the final five minutes that allowed Manly to work their way down the field and kick the winning penalty goal.
“You just can’t afford to do that against good sides. I thought we took our opportunities when they presented themselves, but we gave away far too many penalties and Manly were able to keep their composure when it mattered,” the rookie coach said.
Despite dropping their first match of the season, the Rebels remain in second spot and can secure their position at the top end of the ladder with a win over the Two Blues on Ladies Day at Forshaw on Saturday.
Flyhalf Bayley Kuenzle will miss the clash after returning to Canberra to join the Brumbies but utility back Will Thomas returns and will start at flyhalf after spending the past few weeks with the Welsh Sevens side.
Rodney Ma’a and Nathan Lawson also return to the starting team.
Western Sydney produced one of their better performances of the season last week in a 39-24 loss to Eastwood.
“We showed a lot more patience and understanding in our decision making across the field. We also straightened up our attack and made positive gains over the advantage line,” Two Blues coach Joel Rivers said.
“When we get on the front foot, the boys look dangerous.”
Unfortunately though, injuries have hindered the Two Blues preparation forcing Rivers to rule out Tevita Vea and Junior Satiu, who both impressed last week.
“They both had great games against Eastwood but we’ve got confidence in the guys replacing them.
“Souths like to get over the advantage line and offload so our communication in defence will need to be strong. Then we need to get over the advantage line when we’ve got the ball so we can give our No.9 some clean ball.”
Eastwood v Eastern Suburbs
Eastwood jumped into top spot on the Shute Shield ladder after taking care of Western Sydney last weekend and coach Ben Batger suggested the aim was to stay their for as long as possible.
“All the talk this week has been about making sure we’re up for the challenge week in, week out. In such a tight competition, if you drop your standards just a little bit, you’re going to lose the game.”
Pama Fou returns to the Woodies starting side to replace injured centre Barton Picone in a match Batger thinks will be a lot closer than the ladder suggests it should be.
“Easts are a good side and it’s only going to be a matter of time before they really click. They’ve got speed and footwork right across the part so our defence will have to be on all day.”
The Beasties broke a three match losing streak and claimed just their second win of the season after coming from behind to beat West Harbour at home last week.
“I’m hoping the win gives us some momentum but I guess we’ll find out tomorrow,” coach Pauli Taumoepeau said.
“We’ve trained well all week, but that hasn’t been our issue this year. It’s been the 80 minutes on Saturday that’s hurt us.”
Taumoepeau has named Melbourne Rebels centre Sione Tuipulotu to start his first match for Easts and said the side isn’t going to try and reinvent the wheel, despite sitting eighth on the ladder.
“We’re just going to stick to our usual game plan and hopefully improve our execution.
“Accuracy at the breakdown has been a big focus this week. We haven’t been good enough there and I think that’s been a big contributor to our attack not clicking in big moments.”
Northern Suburbs v Sydney University
It should be the match of the round, with two of arguably the best performing sides of the season so far facing off for the first time.
But oddly enough, both Norths and Sydney Uni head into Saturday’s blockbuster clash coming off disappointing losses.
Norths didn’t turn up for the first time in 2019 and were beaten by a Randwick side that simply out enthused their opposition.
“To their credit, Randwick played really well. Each side’s defence and set piece pretty much cancelled each other out, so the game ended up being decided by contestable ball in the air and on the ground and they beat us there time after time,” Norths coach Nick Hensley said.
“We know what we did poorly and had we executed well in those areas the result could easily have been different.
“I don’t think bouncing back will be a problem given the mood in the sheds after the game. We’re motivated to make sure we never put in that sort of performance again.”
Uni were also disappointing in an eight point loss to Gordon at Chatswood Oval last weekend.
Rob Taylor has made three changes to his side with Tom Osborne to start at prop, Ratu Rotasolia named at lock and Theo Stang set to wear the No.9 jersey.
“We’ll need to work very hard and play smart rugby for the entire 80 minutes to beat Norths,” Taylor said.
“They’ve got a good kicking and like to put up lots of contestable kicks, so we’ll need to keep an eye out for that.”
West Harbour v Gordon
West Harbour let a 17 point lead slip in a disappointing 36-30 loss to Easts at Woollahra last weekend but coach Mark Gudmunson said there were still some positives to take from the match.
“We continued to improve, which is the main thing. The result was really disappointing but improvement each week is the key for us.”
The Pirates have lost explosive outside back Tavite Gadeisuva to injury but add Graeme Kolomolu to the backline and Vaugn Lomax to the front row to play an in form Gordon side this weekend.
“DC (Gordon coach Darren Coleman) will always have something up his sleeve, whether it be bringing a Wallaby into his starting team or a game plan to take us down with some edge to edge rugby.
“Our focus this week has been on making sure something like last week doesn’t happen again. We need to be in control for the majority of the match.”
Coleman said last week’s upset win over Sydney Uni would mean little unless Gordon could back up that performance with a solid effort this week.
“Every team is dangerous. I think it’s the tightest competition we’ve seen since I’ve been involved,” he said.
“Wests have a dangerous back three, a sharp shooter at No.10 and they lead the competition in most line out stats, so they’re a serious team.”
As Gudmunson predicted, Coleman has named Wallabies and Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese to start at hooker on Saturday but the Stags will be without Robbie Abel and Brandon Quinn.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Guddo. He’s a loyal club man who hung around while everyone else was jumping ship during the off season,” Coleman said.
“Good men like him are the fabric of club rugby and I really hope he gets success this year, just not this weekend.”
Warringah v Randwick
Warringah kick start what could easily be a season defining month of rugby at home against Randwick on Saturday.
After starting the year with two wins and two losses, the Rats had a bye in round five and are currently 10th on the ladder ahead of matches against Randwick, Souths, Manly and Eastwood.
“We’ve had a lot of disruptions this week with injuries and changes in personnel but we know what we need to do against Randwick this weekend,” Rats coach Mark Gerrard said, keeping his cards close to his chest.
“Randwick were really good against Norths last week so we need to make sure we stay in the fight and stick to our key focuses all match.”
After starting the year with three losses, the Galloping Greens have won two on the trot and surprised everyone last weekend when they handed Norths their first loss of the season.
“Not too much has changed, we’ve just continued to improve each week and hopefully we’re able to take another step forward tomorrow against Warringah,” Randwick coach Hadley Jackson said.
Flyhalf Bryan Croke has been particularly impressive since working his way into the starting XV.
The Irishman has added 27 points with the boot in his two starts this year and has shown plenty of poise in wins over Easts and Norths.
A third straight win could see Randwick move into the top six.
“Warringah are always tough to beat at Rat Park and we’ll need to be on our game if we want to continue our momentum.”