Shute Shield Round 8: Bragging rights on the line in bumper local derby round

Manly v Warringah 

Arguably the best rivalry in Australian rugby will be reignited again on Saturday when Manly host Warringah in the first Northern Beaches derby of 2019. 

The Marlins were disappointing in a 37-15 loss to Randwick last week and are still yet to win consecutive games this season. 

“Randwick were just more desperate and they edged us out in a few key moments. We made too many errors and weren’t able to mount any pressure,” a frustrated Billy Melrose told Rugby News. 

“A lot of things add up to performing well on match days and I’m not sure we put ourselves in the best space for the challenge.” 

Melrose said his side can’t afford to produce a similar performance against their northern neighbours on Saturday. 

“Josh Holmes is dominating the ruck area. He’s a great player and looks like he’s got spiders on him at times.

“They’re also running some nice inside lines off their No.10 and they looked solid in defence against Souths. 

“We’ll need to care a bit more than we did last week if we want to be in the race.”

Warringah take plenty of confidence into Saturday’s derby after a dominant win over Southern Districts last weekend. 

Since being embarrassed by Sydney Uni on Good Friday, the Rats have won three straight matches and can jump into the top three with a win on Saturday. 

“I was really impressed with our patience last week against Souths. We’d played our footy in the right parts of the field and eventually found a way through,” Warringah coach Mark Gerrard said ahead of his first derby as head coach. 

“We’ll need to do the same this weekend against Manly. If we can control the game and play where we want to play, then we’ll back our defence to win us the game.”

Warringah have named 24-year old South African prop Mees Erasmus to start. Erasmus is currently in the Melbourne Rebels squad and has spent time at the Force and the Brumbies in previous years. 

Gordon v Northern Suburbs

Gordon host Norths in the weekend’s other local derby, that will likely be just as fiery as the clash at Manly Oval. 

Norths belted Gordon in last year’s fixture in what was a dark day for the Stags and while a number of this year’s squad are new to the club, the importance of the match hasn’t been lost on them. 

“Some of us are obviously still building our loyalties to the club, so it will probably mean more to some than others, but I think the whole group understands the importance of the clash for the wider Gordon rugby community, particularly after last year,” Stags coach Darren Coleman said. 

Gordon couldn’t match Eastwood in the final 20 minutes of their clash last weekend and leaked two late tries in a 28-5 loss.

Coleman said his side would need to eliminate the errors from their game to challenge Norths this weekend and increase the physicality in their carries. 

“They’ve got some very settled combinations in key areas. The 9, 10 and 12 and the back five of the scrum have all played a lot of winning rugby together, so they’ll be hard to beat.”

Norths snapped a two game losing streak with a dominant bonus point win over Western Sydney in round seven. 

“We won the field position battle, which we made a point of doing on Saturday and that set us up well for scoring opportunities,” coach Nick Hensley told Rugby News. 

“We left a few points out there though, which was disappointing.”

Hensley has added former Cheetahs and Stormers prop Caylib Oosthuizen to the Norths front row to bolster an already impressive forward pack for Saturday’s clash against the resurgent Stags. 

“They’ve already shown that they can play good rugby. They’ve been a little inconsistent at times, and I suppose that comes with the amount of new faces in the team. That being said, when they click, they’re very dangerous,” Hensley said. 

“We’ve got a lot of respect for their capability and we’re expecting a strong performance from them.”

Eastwood v West Harbour

Eastwood secured top spot on the Shute Shield ladder with an impressive win over Gordon at Chatswood Oval in round seven. 

The Woodies defended brilliantly but assistant coach Andrew Clyne said he hoped his side wouldn’t have to work as hard as they did last week. 

“We can’t keep giving up as much ball as we have been. I think last week we had three players in the top six for tackles made across the entire round and that will catch up with you. We can’t afford to do that week in, week out,” Clyne told Rugby News.  

Eastwood have made one change to the side that beat Gordon, with James Neale returning to the Woodies forward pack. 

“Our focus against West Harbour is on our ball retention and defence. If we hold the ball for extended periods, we can build enough pressure and score points. 

“Wests identify space really well, have a license to throw it around and have some dangerous carriers so we will have to build on last week’s defensive effort.”

West Harbour weren’t at their best in a loss to Sydney Uni last week but have quietly been waiting for Saturday’s clash to face former Pirates Tayler Adams and Enoki Muliufi for the first time. 

“To beat Eastwood you need to match their forwards,” Pirates coach Mark Gudmunson said. 

“We know Tayler and Enoki pretty well and what they bring, but the forward pack provides all the go forward.”

“They’ve got some great ball carriers and real X factor out wide if it gets past the 10/12 combo. They seem to want the ball in their hands a lot.”

Gudmunson has made just one change to his side with Kaliova Nacina set to return from injury in the backrow. 

Western Sydney v Eastern Suburbs

A week after producing their best performance of the year to beat Souths, Western Sydney were disappointing in a 31 point loss to Norths last week. 

“The guys seemed flat after the win over Souths and that’s something we need to change. This competition is too tough to not be mentally ready by Saturday at 3pm,” Two Blues coach Joel Rivers told Rugby News. 

Despite that, the coach seemed confident that his side was still on the right track. 

“We’ve got enough talent and skill within the group to perform consistently and win games. If we can improve our decision making and our preparation, we can beat anyone.”

The Two Blues host an Eastern Suburbs side who beat West Harbour and Eastwood in consecutive weeks prior to last week’s bye. 

“It was good to give our bodies a rest because it’s been a pretty physical start to the season but then it did halt our momentum a little,” Easts coach Pauli Taumeopeau said. 

“It’s up to us to be on the ball mentally this week to try and keep that momentum rolling.”

Easts have lost Will Maddocks to the Aussie 7s program for the next fortnight but welcome back Mack Mason for Saturday’s match. 

Cohan Guerra shifts to fullback and will link with Dan Donato in the back three. In his first year in the top grade, Donato has been one of Easts most consistency this year. 

“Dan has been solid and really found his groove in the last few rounds. He was actually lucky to keep his spot for round one against Uni. He didn’t play well in our last trial, but we thought we’d give him another go and he’s taken that opportunity and really made the most of it.”

Sydney Uni v Southern Districts

Sydney Uni weren’t at their best against West Harbour last weekend but still found a way to beat the Pirates and will be looking for three straight victories when they host Southern Districts on Saturday. 

“We were a bit scrappy last week against West Harbour. I’d like to see our backs play a little more direct this week,” Uni coach Rob Taylor said. 

“Their scrum is one of the best in the competition, so our forwards will need to match them their.”

Taylor has named Matt Sandell to start at loose head prop and Josh Kemeny to start his first match of the season at No.8. 

Kemeny was a standout for the Australian U20s last year and missed the first third of the season through injury. The kid can seriously play. 

“We will need to work hard for 80 minutes and stick to our game plan,” Taylor added. 

Southern Districts were disappointing again last week in a 38-7 loss to Warringah and have now dropped three straight matches. 

Adding to their woes, Rebels No.8 Marcus Carbone is likely to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a serious knee injury against the Rats.

“You can’t replace a player like Marcus, so our entire group is going to have to step up collectively to try and fill the void,” Souths coach Donny Mackinnon said. 

Christian Kagiassis returns at fullback to play his former club after missing the match against Warringah, while Damien Johnson will make his first grade starting debut at lock. 

“We’ve just got to eliminate the errors from our game. I don’t think we’re far off, but we just seem to be making errors at crucial times and most teams will make you pay for that,” Mackinnon added.