Wests 2017 QLD Premier Rugby Season Review – With Pat Byron

Photo: QRU Media

Following the opening of a brand new facility at Sylvan Road, the Bulldogs found their bark in 2017 and returned to play finals footy for the first time in 10 years.

While their stay was short-lived, after letting a big lead slip against Sunnybank on the opening weekend of the playoffs, Wests transformed from cellar dwellers to premiership contenders in less than 12 months and according to coach Pat Byron, the Bulldogs aren’t finished their transformation just yet.

Overview with Pat Byron:

“It’s a bit bittersweet looking back on this season I guess. At the start of the year, after not playing finals football for so long, you probably would have taken finals but once we got there, it was disappointing to not go on with the job. We led all game against Sunnybank in that semi final and lost after the bell but at the end of the day, Sunnybank were just too strong up front and they got the better of us when it mattered,” Byron told Rugby News.

“The biggest change this year came through how we approached our rugby. We had some new personnel and a wonderful new facility but we changed how we wanted to play as a team and as a club and that gave us some really good results in Premier Grade and towards the end of the year, Reserve Grade and Colts were going well as well.

“We focussed a lot more on our unstructured play, that was probably the biggest change. We saw a real opportunity for us to be one of the better clubs in that aspect so we put a real emphasis on the way we trained and played around the unstructured parts of the game and that certainly helped.

“If we’re being honest, our set piece wasn’t good enough and that’s what let us down in the semi final against Sunnybank. Our lineout was generally good however our scrum at times just wasn’t good enough so working towards next season, that will be a big area that we will try and improve.

“We were a little slow out of the blocks at the start of the year and it took a little while for our new guys to get comfortable and for us to gel as a team. But even though we did start slowly, we always thought we had a good side in us and as the season progressed, we had a little down patch in the middle of the year, but then we finished the season really well. To lead the semi final from the start and then lose after the bell, it was really disappointing.

“It definitely feels like we’ve got some unfinished business. The boys and the coaches are all very motivated. We’ve started preseason and the energy and enthusiasm is already very high. We’ll have a very similar looking team going into next year. We’ve lost Eddie Fidow to France and we’re probably not expecting to see a whole lot of Filipe Daugunu after his brilliant season for us and then with QLD Country in the NRC but we’re okay with that. It’s great to see our players get opportunities to play professional rugby and we’re confident with the players we’ve got in the club behind them.”

Standout player(s):

“In the forwards, Jerry Lynch was outstanding for us this year. Connor Anderson also had a very good season,” Byron said.

“We had a very good backline and it’s probably hard to pick one more than another. I thought our halfback Liam Dillon had a very good year and then our outside backs, in terms of Felipe (Daugunu), Bryon (Hutchison) and Eddie Fidow, they were all very strong.”

Which of your non contracted players deserves to play at a higher level? 

“Jerry Lynch, absolutely. He’s outstanding and he ended up getting an opportunity towards the end of the NRC with Brisbane City and we would have loved to see him play a little more.

“He’s been a great footballer in the Premier Grade competition for the last few years and great for Wests Rugby as well so he’s one we certainly all hope gets an opportunity to play representative rugby.”

What do Wests need to do between now and round one next year? 

“Off the field, we’re working hard to build the culture around the club. With the new clubhouse, we’ve worked really hard to make sure our facilities are top notch and that will be a continued process,” the coach said.

“On the field, the biggest thing we’ve identified we need to improve is our set piece. Not only from the forwards, but the set piece accuracy from our backline as well.

“In terms of the scrum, we’ll bring a few guys in and look to work with a few of the guys already at the club. We’re confident our coaching staff will be able to get the best out of the group we have next year and by adding a bit more experience up front, I think we’ll be able to compete.”

Bold prediction for 2018: 

“We believe that we’ll play finals football again, that’s basically it. Everyone talks about winning the competition and obviously we’d love to win it, but our main focus is on making the finals and then we’ll see what happens from there.

“It’s always hard to pick with this comeptition. You can never bet against a side like University, they’re just such a strong club. The competition this year though was very close, I think up until the second last round, there was still seven or eight teams in it, so you never know who is going to come out of the pack and you’ve just got to expect that every club is going to have a good team and you’re going to have to play well every week to win.”