West Harbour 2017 Shute Shield Season Preview – With Todd Louden

Todd Louden’s reign at Concord Oval didn’t get off to the best start, with a heavily rain affected preseason derailing the Pirates early.

But by the midway point of the season, things started to turn for West Harbour. Led by 2017 Catchpole Medal winner Tayler Adams, the Pirates won their last seven matches and fell agonisingly short of an illusive finals berth.

While Adams has signed with the Melbourne Rebels in 2018, Louden still has an exciting, young group at Concord, hungry for more consistency and success.

Overview with Todd Louden:

“At the end of the day, we didn’t make the finals this year so we really didn’t win anything. For a lot of our players and coaches, missing out on the finals is what is driving us going forward. We’ve retained the majority of the group for next season so we’re all pretty hungry, hunger is the word we are all using at the moment, to be better in 2018,” Louden told Rugby News.

“Our preseason was a shocker. We pretty much didn’t get on the field for seven weeks with the wet weather in the lead up to the season. That made it difficult for the guys to get used to our new systems and to form combinations. We were training in car parks before we played Randwick and Norths in round one and two, just to try and get some type of combinations. We found a way to get to the mid season bye and then found ourselves a little bit from there.

“After that, we started to gel and got a better understanding of what it takes to win. We also worked out how we wanted to play the game to suit our players strengths. Some of the players perceptions of how they should play the game was different to the way we thought they should play and it took some time to get on the same page.

“I thought we operated well as a team and we worked out how to focus on the little one percenters and that had a big impact on our game. We held the ball fairly well and we were a lot better at that in the second half of the competition. We did a number of things well but there are a number of things we still need to improve and we’ve addressed that in our review.

“As a group, I think we’ve got a better understanding now of what it will take to not just make finals, but to be competitive when we get there.

I still think we’ve got a lot of room to improve our defensive systems. It’s not that we’re bad at tackling, it’s just that our focus this year was mostly on our attack because we were so far behind. Our defensive systems took a bit of a second seat, so that will be a big focus for us going forward. I think our lineout can be much better as well.

“I think we’ve got to get away from talking about how much potential West Harbour has. Whilst it’s true, it’s one thing to have potential but it’s another thing to realise it so I feel that we’ve got to stop giving ourselves excuses. We can’t be happy being nearly there, we’ve got to actually get there.

“In terms of improvement, this is a new group of players in many ways. It’s the make up of a lot of players that have been coming through for a long time now. We’ve got a lot of young players and a real diverse group and a lot of guys are still learning to play first grade and finding out what it takes to perform at that level consistently.

“Consistency is a key for us. Consistency in performance, in execution, in our preparation, but in terms of our game, I don’t think there is an element that we can’t improve.”

Standout player(s): 

“Tayler Adams is an obvious one, he was outstanding. But if your flyhalf is winning the Catchpole Medal and is the competition’s leading pointscorer, then your forward pack has to be doing something right and the backs must be playing a really good supporting role,” Louden continued.

“I thought Andrew Tuala was really good for us. He carries the ball well, he defends well, and his work rate is great for a big guy. There were a number of others that played well throughout the year, we just need them to do it more consistently in 2018.

“I don’t think we’ll see Tayler Adams next year (after he signed with the Melbourne Rebels). There was talk that he could come back for finals, but that’s not something I’d do. You’ve got to have faith and trust in the guys that have got you there. He’s a big loss, but I’m pretty confident that we’ve got someone that will fill his shoes and perhaps be even better.”

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

“Andrew Tuala but there are a couple of others that given the right experience in a professional program, I think they’d eat it up and do really well.

“Andrew (Tuala) plays two positions, hooker and prop and I think if he can keep on top of his level of conditioning, then I think he can take it to another level. The fact that he can play both positions is a big positive for him, it’s just about him getting physically right but he played every minute of every game this year so that says a lot.

“He’s 26, so in terms of front rowers, he’s a baby and he’s very hungry to improve.”

What do West Harbour need to do between now and round one next year to improve? 

“Consistency is going to be very important but we need to be hungry to find a way to be better every day in all the little areas.

“We don’t lack fitness, we’ve got good game fitness so we’ve put that one to bed because that has been an issue in the past. We just need to be a lot more consistent in both defence and attack.

“It’s our second year now and we’ve noticed already that the guys are a long way ahead of where they were at this time last year. We know that players, we know where they need to improve and it’s been great to be able to do a proper review of last season. It makes things easier but at the same time, expectations are now higher so it’s a bit of a different challenge.”

Bold prediction for 2018:

“I suspect that the competition will be even tighter than it was this year. We’re seeing a regrowth of the popularity of the competition but you’re also seeing the grassroots mentality at clubs grow. The players love playing for their clubs and every club is playing a slightly different style.

“They said this year was the tightest competition in history but I think it’s going to be even tighter next year and it’s probably going to come down to the way the draw is structured, to who wins some early games and it’s going to be hard fought in every match.

“As a playing group, we haven’t set our targets for next year and I’m led by the players on that. Obviously the top squad will want to at least make the finals, but our fourth grade had a really good year this year and we’ve got a big focus on our colts at the moment. We’d like to bring more of those players into grade over time.

“Overall, the whole club wants to do better than they did last year.”