Warringah 2017 Shute Shield Season Review – With Darren Coleman

The Warringah rugby club experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in 2017.

On the field, the club welcomed a new coaching staff and its first grade side finally appeared ready to fulfil its potential, after falling just short on a number of occasions.

But the club and the wider rugby community were rocked by the tragic passing of lower grader Lachie Ward, brother of first grader Sam, during a match at Pittwater in June.

What happened in the months that followed exemplified everything that is good about grassroots footy and Rugby News caught up with premiership coach Darren Coleman to recap Warringah’s season.

Overview with Darren Coleman: 

“It was a memorable season in many ways but obviously grand final day was the highlight. It was an amazing day and it was great to share it with a fantastic bunch of boys who found a way to push though a lot of adversity during the year,” Coleman said.

“We spoke about winning a premiership at the very start of our preseason and I generally did think we were good enough at the point, but I guess all coaches do at that time of the year. We needed to improve in certain aspects based on the club’s prior years and I think we did that. Our defence, our resilience and our consistency was up a fair bit compared to what Warringah had produced previously and in the end, I think that’s what got us over the line.

“Warringah have always been known as a team that can score points, but this year we had a bit more fire in the belly and were a bit more consistent. We probably only had one or two games all year that we weren’t in.

“That first win against Manly was probably a turning point, particularly because it came off the back of our defence. We’d been patchy and leaky up until that point and that first derby match at Manly Oval was a mini grand final in our eyes and the boys really stood up in defence. From that point, I think the group really believed they could win a championship.

“I think we probably trained a little harder this year compared to previous Warringah sides. Warringah had been known as a side that could be a little inconsistent, even within games and that kind of reflected the way they trained initially I think. Through the year, we increased that intensity and added a third night of training for the first time ever. Those things all contribute to being more consistent because the expectations and the standards are higher.

“Souths gave us a good reality check in round 17. They were on fire at that point and they gave us a bit of a touch up. But then a week later we beat Norths in the final round and that got us a spot in the top three. Although we only beat them by 10 points, I think we were fairly dominant and that gave us plenty of momentum heading into the finals. We knew we had a home semi, then with results going our way, we ended up playing at home again in the second week and it felt like everything was in our favour.

“By the time it came to the grand final against Norths, I reckon we would have played at least a half dozen games in front of more than 5000 people, so the boys felt comfortable on the big stage.

“It was a tight game and I was pretty glad to be in front after 80 minutes. The lead changed or levelled up something like seven times in the first 50 minutes and although we held the lead for the final 30, they were always nipping at our heels. I do generally believe that we were a little better on the day, but Norths could have easily came away with the win.

“It was a pretty even game in most aspects but I think we won playing a pretty typical style of Warringah footy by scoring ad lib tries. We did score a few tight, A zone tries, but then Harry scored two from turnovers and that really hurt Norths.

“Words can’t describe the admiration I have for Sam Ward and his family for how they handled themselves and continue to handle themselves to this day (following the passing of brother Lachie). The pain certainly hasn’t gone away and it probably never will but the way Sam in particular was able to put that aside and get on with playing footy was pretty amazing. We all agreed that the football was a good thing for him, because it gave him a focus and a purpose, but as I said I’m blown away by how the family handled this year.

“The support from the wider Warringah community was also amazing. It was a bit of a snowball effect. The home crowds were good early, but they just kept getting bigger and bigger because we were playing good footy. The scenes back at the clubhouse when we got off the bus after the GF had to be seen to be believed. It’s the closest our boys will ever get to feeling like rockstars, it was pretty cool.”

Standout player(s):

“Maclean Jones won our player of the year. He was just consistent all year and his work rate was phenomenal. I thought our props Sam Needs and Rory O’Connor deserve a lot of credit and we won a few games on the back of their efforts, not just at scrum time but around the park. Josh Holmes and Harry Jones were unreal and broke a lot of games wide open. I could probably name a handful more as well,” Coleman said.

“Hamish Angus played the grand final on one leg and I think he was always going to play but we were really fortunate to have Myles Dorrian join us halfway through the year. Although it was risky to go in to the final with a player that wasn’t 100 per cent, we always knew we had Myles there.”

Which of your non contracted players deserves to play higher honours?

“Seb Wileman has got something about him, he just needs to be a little more consistent in a few aspects but he’s an out and out tackle breaker and an athlete,” the coach said.

“Harry Jones will. He’ll be a professional somewhere, some time soon. He had a bit of a kick in the butt this year from the Waratahs but he’s young and he’ll continue to get better and become more consistency. He’s far too talented to not break back into the professional ranks.”

What needs to happen between now and round one next year at Warringah?

“We haven’t talked a lot as a team just yet. We only started earlier this month and purposely had a late start to the preseason to give the guys a good break. I think we’ll need to revisit all the things that made us successful this year. The hard long training sessions, the analysis, all the things that the club potentially hadn’t done so well in the past, if we can tick those boxes then hopefully we’ll be back in the mix,” Coleman said.

“I think it’s great that the SRU have scheduled a grand final rematch in round one, we’re already excited by that.

“Like most clubs, we’ve got a few players trialling for professional contracts around the place, but I think we’ll retain the majority of the group. There are pros and cons in regards to defending a title rather than winning one. I think we can handle pressure a lot better now than we could at the start of last season and we’re a lot more clinical but we’ve got to prove now that we are a good football side and we didn’t just win in 2017 on the back of emotion. By the end of the year, we were most supporters second team but that won’t be the case next year and we’ll be even more hunted.

“That’s probably the thing driving me at the moment. If we can be in the hunt to win it again, it’ll be through football ability not emotion next year.”

Bold prediction for 2017 season:

“I’ve been waiting for this and I’ve got two,” Coleman said.

“Nine teams will be alive and a mathematical chance of making the playoffs going into round 18, it’s going to be that tight.

“I also think Easts will be the big improvers and jump quite a few spots on the ladder next year.”