Warringah building winning culture after pre-season Sevens success

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Warringah have kick started their 2017 Shute Shield campaign with 17 wins from 18 matches across three pre-season Sevens tournaments and are looking to build on that winning culture as they attempt to break a 53-year first grade premiership drought.

The Rats won both the Lake Macquarie and Kiama Sevens tournaments and made the final of the Hamilton Sevens last month, while the women’s side won all three tournaments and are still undefeated this year.

“Dave Feltscheer has been to nine Kiama tournaments and has made the semis or final every time but never won it, so it’s great for Warringah to break that hoodoo,” new coach Darren Coleman told Rugby News.

“This Sevens program wasn’t my idea. The program has been around for a while now at Warringah with Greg Marr as coach and Mark Holmes as manager and they do a wonderful job.

“At the start of preseason, we said we wanted to build a winning culture, grind out wins and work on our game management so hopefully that will put us in good stead for this season.”

While Coleman admitted the risk of injuries in pre-season was a concern ahead of a gruelling Shute Shield campaign, the former Eastern Suburbs coach said the positives outweighed the negatives, adding that he was confident his side will be well prepared for the start of the regular season.

“We started with about 40 Sevens players before Christmas, then we took two squads of 14 to our first tournament in Hamilton and then we narrowed it down to one team for the Lake Macquarie and Kiama tournaments. Most of our top players wanted to be involved, so that was great,” he said.

“There are obviously differences between XVs and Sevens, but the core skills are all the same and the fitness is really tough. I think the boys that have been playing Sevens will head into our trials a step ahead of those who haven’t.”

Heading into his first season at the club, Coleman said the tournaments gave him a good opportunity to watch and learn about both new and returning players ahead of the season.

“Maclean Jones has joined us from Queensland, he was player of the tournament at Lake Macquarie and I know he’s focussed on trying to get a Waratahs contract but if he ever wanted to play professional Sevens, I think he’d be good enough.

“Harley Atwater was a third grade player that joined us from Manly. He started the first tournament in our B squad but by the end of the Kiama, he was starting in our top side and he made every post a winner.

“Then you’ve got the usual suspects like Josh Holmes and Hamish Angus, they didn’t play NRC last year so they wanted to play Sevens and they led the side around well.”

Warringah currently have four players in the men’s Australian Sevens squad and Coleman credited Greg Marr, Mark Holmes and other coaches at the club for establishing a strong program several years ago.

Outside back Seb Wileman is now training part-time with the main squad and Coleman believes a number of his players are good enough to join him.

“I think there generally is a pathway there now. Essentially, the Australian Sevens program is our sixth professional team, so if boys aren’t getting a shot at Super Rugby and want to choose that pathway, I’m all for it. It’s just another way for them to become a professional rugby player and stay in Sydney.”

Warringah now have less than a month to prepare for their opening round Shute Shield clash against Northern Suburbs, but Coleman doesn’t think the club’s focus on Sevens will affect their early season form.

“We’ve run both programs the whole time, Sevens has been on Monday and Saturday and XVs has been on Tuesday and Thursday and the guys not playing Sevens are training anyway so I don’t think it has got in the way of our preparations.

“Everyone has a rugby free weekend this week and then we have our first trial against Randwick on March 11 so everyone is now purely focussed on the Shute Shield and trying to win our first premiership in 53 years.”