Shute Shield: Will Coogee Oval become a sevens heaven in 2020?

By MARK CASHMAN

Coogee Oval could well become “sevens heaven” as the 2020 Shute Shield plays out in these Covid-19 affected times, but as Randwick head coach Ben McCormack stressed this week it’s a matter of waiting to see what happens.

Four members of Tim Walsh’s national squad – Dylan Pietsch, Simon Kennewell, Lachie Miller and Henry Hutchison – have all put their hand up to play for the Galloping Greens this year in the wake of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

All outstanding rugby athletes and ambitious to succeed, but how they adapt to rigours of the XV-man game and the Shute Shield are, as McCormack says, yet to play out.

“Sevens is a very different game these days so at this stage I am not too sure where they will all fit in,” McCormack said.

“I must admit that it’s a good headache to have at this stage of the year but as of this point in time we have not kicked a ball or made a tackle so we will just have to wait and see where they all land.

“In some ways I’d like for these guys to make the decisions for me.”

Randwick come into the new season after a somewhat disappointing 2019 that saw them miss out on a place in the finals and McCormack coming in to replace Hadley Jackson who had stepped up from their successful colts the year before.

The whole coaching structure of the club has in fact been revamped with Morgan Turinui coming in as Club Coach and being a great sounding board for McCormack, who will work closely with Garrick Cowley (backs) and Matty Bowman (scrum and contact areas) with the top group.

The pressure to get the results at Coogee have always been there and with several more experienced heads leaving the NSW Waratahs in recent weeks the sightings of the likes of Will Harrison, Ben Donaldson and James Ramm will be rare.

It also hasn’t been helped with props Cam Betham and Sonny Satuala both heading over the West Harbour, while promising playmaker Tane Edmed has linked with Eastwood in an effort to get more time in the top grade.

“Of course you would like to keep everyone that you want to keep but you’ve got to be honest with players and let them make the decisions about their footy careers,” McCormack opined.

Edmed obviously felt that his chances of playing first grade at Coogee would be challenged by the presence of Waratahs Harrison and Donaldson at the club.

But the No.2 jersey will be something that McCormack will be able to have considerable faith in as the season gets underway.

French hooker Hugo Camp has joined the club after a year of club footy in New Zealand while last year’s starting hooker David Va’a is looking fit and ready for action.

Throw into that mix former Test hooker Adam Freier who has not missed a training session all through the lockdown as well as the aspiring Oli Barden and there is genuine depth and strike power there that should be able to close out a few of the tight ones.

Freier, a leading sports executive, has over 100 Super Rugby games at three clubs and 25 Tests to his name and is heading to Los Angeles to take on the General Manager’s role with the new Major League Rugby side the LA Giltinis.

The Giltinis will be coached by Gordon’s boss Darren Coleman and Stephen Hoiles.

“He’s getting old and the calves are tightening up but he still wants to play and contribute something until he heads over to the States,” McCormack added about Freier.

Randwick have an interesting draw that sees them kick off with two home games against Newcastle and Warringah but at the back end of the home and away season they play teams that will be bolstered by returning Super Rugby stars.

“Yeah the draw is the draw and you’ve just got to work with what you get,” McCormack said.

In the last month the Galloping Greens will encounter Sydney Uni, Manly and Eastern Suburbs, a team that McCormack says will be the competition’s big improver.

“Easts have always had a pretty good roster but (coach) Pauli Taumoepeau is really switched on to the areas that his club needs to look at,” he said.

“Warringah are also a club in that zone where they are capable of winning another premiership while Sydney Uni have a roster that features five (Super Rugby) contracted props.

“That’s important at the back end of the year when your set piece needs to stand up and you’d back them even at this stage to play deep into the finals.”

At Randwick though as McCortmack has stressed it’s a matter of a lot of moving pieces coming together – time will tell.