Shute Shield: Stability set to help West Harbour side chasing finals spot in 2020

2019 was never going to be easy for West Harbour, who started last year’s Shute Shield season with almost an entirely new starting XV. 

While they were able to win two of their first three matches, the Pirates added just one more win to their name in the regular season. 

But things look very different in 2020, according to second year coach Mark Gudmunson, who couldn’t be happier with his summer at Concord. 

“We’ve had a really positive start to the year, it’s a very different feeling compared to 2019. We lost a few guys to pro contracts, which is always a good thing, but we’ve retained the majority of the squad from last year,” the coach told Rugby News. 

“Then we’ve gone out and tried to get some players back who had left the club in recent years and then recruited in a few specific positions. We aren’t just going after anyone and everyone anymore, we’ve been able to be a little more strategic this year.”

The Pirates have lost gun flyhalf Tiaan Swanepoel, who made his Super Rugby debut for the Lions in round one, Tyler Fisher (USA), Noah Cooper (returned to finish study in NZ) and Rhys Brodie (Ireland) but have retained the majority of the players who joined the club last year. 

“The playing group has been really active and involved in planning the year with our coaching staff. We’ve added a few specialist coaches as well and we’ve been able to work with this group over a full preseason, which has been fantastic and has really shown in our Sevens performances so far,” Gudmunson said. 

“Last year was a steep learning curve. I’ve been in and around the coaching ranks for a while but up until last year, I didn’t fully understand how much is involved outside of the actual coaching. It was an eye opener and it was a lot of work but it was really enjoyable.”

The Pirates have recruited young Waratahs flanker Carlo Tizzano, back Connor Chittenden and flyhalf DP de Lange from the Brisbane club competition as well as local junior Sonny Satuala and promising playmaker Pat Pellegrini from Randwick.

“There’s still a lot of work to go but everyone involved in the club is really happy with how things are going,” Gudmunson added. 

“The board and coaching staff from last year are mostly the same, then we’ve added (Fijian international) Campese Ma’afu. For a West Harbour junior like Campese who went on to play professionally to be back coaching at the club, its massive and we’re really excited about it.”

While the 2020 season is shaping up to be just as tight as recent Shute Shield competitions, Gudmunson seems confident that West Harbour can move up the ladder and play finals this season. 

“I definitely think we can (play finals) and we’re not talking about anything else. 80% of our top squad have a full year of Shute Shield rugby under their belt. They know what they need to do and the level they need to compete at,” he said. 

“If you look across all the clubs, it’s funny to say it but West Harbour are probably the most stable of all them, with all the changes in coaches and players around the place. 

“At the end of the day, until round one kicks off it’s always hard to know but at this stage we certainly think we’ll be right in the mix.”