Shute Shield Round 9: Souths play Norths to keep season alive, Easts & Gordon head west
Northern Suburbs v Southern Districts
Norths defended inside their own 22 metres for the last five minutes of Saturday’s local derby against Gordon and held on to claim a tight 18-14 victory after trailing 14-5 earlier in the match.
While the derby was far tighter than last year’s blow out, coach Nick Hensley said this victory was far sweeter.
“It was a scrappy game, but derbies can be like that,” Hensley said.
“They attacked well but we defended well enough, especially deep in our own territory. I’d rather we didn’t have to defend our line at the death, but it’s good to know we can.”
The win secures the Shoreman’s spot in the top three, heading into Saturday’s clash against a Southern Districts side desperate to get their season back on track.
After winning their opening three matches, Souths have now lost four straight. The Rebels matched Sydney Uni for 50 minutes in their round eight clash, but were blown away by the Students in the final half hour.
“It’s been a frustrating few weeks but I still don’t think we’re that far off,” Souths coach Donny Mackinnon said.
“We just seem to be making mistakes at critical times and it’s been hurting us. This week we’ll need to play field position and execute if we want to give ourselves a shot against Norths.”
Mackinnon has made two changes to his starting side, with flanker Harry McLennan and outside back Faleula Finau to start in a match that’s close to a must win for the visitors.
“We know how important this one is. It’s still early days, but one or two wins is probably going to be the difference between playing finals or not,” Mackinnon said.
Eastwood v Warringah
Eastwood took maximum points from their round eight clash against West Harbour but the Woodies were far from perfect according to coach Ben Batger.
“We just can’t keep giving teams opportunities to get back into matches by handing the ball over through poor control or ill discipline,” Batger said.
Eastwood lead the competition on 31 points, three ahead of Sydney Uni, but have the sixth best defensive record and are leaking close to 24 points a match so far this season.
Batger has named an unchanged side for the first time this season, but the coach knows his side’s defence will need to improve if they want to beat an in form Warringah outfit.
“Warringah are an experienced, tough and resilient side. They’ve got a few old heads around who can control the game and even last week when they were 20 points down, they still didn’t panic and found a way to win.”
The Rats produced one of the greatest escapes the Shute Shield has ever seen in last week’s Battle of the Beaches to beat Manly in spectacular fashion at Manly Oval.
After an inconsistent start to the season, Warringah have now won their last four matches and sit just outside of the top three.
Aussie 7s forwards Tom Connors and Boyd Killingworth both made an immediate impact off the bench last weekend, with Killingworth set to start in the back row against Eastwood this weekend.
Eastern Suburbs v Gordon
Easts and Gordon will return to Orange in beautiful Central West NSW for the second straight season in a clash that pits former coaching colleagues Pauli Taumoepeau and Darren Coleman up against one another.
Easts claimed a bonus point win over Western Sydney last weekend but leaked 20 points against the Two Blues, something Taumoepeau knows his side can’t afford to do against Gordon this weekend.
“We’ve got to limit our unforced errors and defend their attacking options. They have a lot of danger men who will do some damage if we aren’t solid in defence,” the coach said.
Taumoepeau said the squad was thrilled to be returning to Orange, despite the cool conditions forecast for Saturday.
“We’ve had so many great country boys have an amazing impact on our competition and at Easts were lucky to have so many guys in our teams from the Central West region. It’s really a home away from home for us and we can’t wait to get back there.”
Gordon coach Darren Coleman said the group was shattered after falling just short against Norths in last week’s local derby at Chatswood Oval.
“Sunday and Monday was definitely the two hardest days we’ve had this year to get back up mentally after the loss,” he said.
“When we did, we’ve worked on our A zone attack and lineout, which have been the two main contributors to all of our losses this year.”
The former Easts coach identified Orange local and Easts No.9 Jack “Grunter” Grant as the player his side needed to shut down.
“Easts are in some winning form and play very well off fast ruck ball where Grunter is sharp.
Their Waratah locks will also be a handful in the air.
“If we can slow down Grant and win some aerial ball, their coach won’t have too many other answers.”
Gordon will also wear an indigenous jersey for the first time this weekend.
“We’ve got five players in firsts this week with indigenous background – Alex Barker, Jordy Goddard and the three Abel brothers – that’s really cool and you can tell it means a lot to them personally.”
West Harbour v Manly
West Harbour were made to pay for a handful of lapses in concentration in last weeks 16 point loss to competition leaders Eastwood.
The Pirates led at half time but went away from their structures in the second half according to coach Mark Gudmunson.
“I’m getting sick of hearing people talk about how well we are doing considering the circumstances. We’re doing well because we’re a good team and if we start to believe that, we’ll start winning more games,” the frustrated coach said.
“Manly are strong all over. They’ve got big forwards and fast outside backs. This will be our biggest challenge to date so far. They’re coming off a disappointing loss last week and I’m sure Billy would have had a big week with them to get them back on track.”
The Marlins were left shellshocked after they leaked 29 unanswered points in a heartbreaking loss to Warringah.
“We had a fair bit of tire fallout on the injury front after the Rats match but we still managed to have a fairly upbeat session on Tuesday,” Manly coach Billy Melrose said.
Manly have been forced to make a number of changes ahead of Saturday’s clash against West Harbour due to injury, but Melrose said his side focus remained internal.
“We now know we need to concentrate on each and every minute of the match if we want to win.
“It’s a new game against new players and a new opportunity.”
Randwick v Western Sydney
Randwick and Western Sydney will both look to keep their finals hopes alive when they meet at Coogee Oval.
After a slow start to the season, Randwick have been the big improvers over the past month and had a bye in round eight after an impressive win over Manly.
“We don’t want to change a whole lot from that Manly performance to be honest,” Wicks coach Hadley Jackson said.
“We spent the week off analysing what has been working and what needs tweaking for our next stretch of eight games leading into the finals.”
While Randwick will start as favourites at home, where they have a strong record this year, Jackson said his side will need to be clinical against a Two Blues side who he said are more than capable of playing dangerous rugby.
Western Sydney fell away towards the end of both halves against Easts last weekend and paid the price for it in a 40-20 loss.
Despite that, coach Joel Rivers said a number of his players were getting closer to playing their best rugby again.
“Our No.8 Tala Moli was back to his 2018 form last week with a number strong runs and tackles. In the backs, Hayden Cole was impressive and linked well with Michael Zakhia to keep us out of trouble.”