A positive Rapp for the Rebels
Souths head coach Tim Rapp talks to young Souths star Rob Horne – Photo: SPA Images
We’re just over halfway through this years Shute Shield competition, and it’s a time for many of the coaches to take stock, analyse, deconstruct, and plan for the remaining games that will ultimately define their season.
One guy who has a lot of positives to look back on so far is Southern Districts’ coach Tim Rapp. In his first year in charge of the Rebels, Rapp, alongside assistant coach Steve Harkin, have taken on a thankless task in trying to turn around the fortunes of the club from the ‘Shire’.
Having finished bottom of the ladder in each of the last two seasons, they would have been under no illusions as to the enormity of the task ahead. But three wins – including one of the upsets of this, and many seasons, against reigning premiers Sydney University – and two very close calls later, have seen the Rebels move up to 10th in the table.
Not an earth shattering turnaround maybe, but certainly a marked improvement. And they’ve shown enough in most games to suggest that they are on an upward curve, and no longer the soft touches of previous campaigns.
Even in defeat at the hands of an impressive Warringah outfit in round eleven, they put in one of the best defensive displays I’ve seen this year – certainly for the first hour – and they made the Rats work extremely hard for their victory. As Warringah head coach John McKee said afterwards, “We knew it was going to be a very hard game and that they would be a hard team to break down. Every ball was hotly contested, and post-attack there was a big battle for the ball all the time.”
Regarding that game, Rapp saw signs of progress that augur well for the coming weeks. “It’s funny, we spoke between the coaches about – and this can never happen – but if we’d played that type of game today two weeks ago against West Harbour, we would have won,” he says.
“We’ve progressed but once again, it’s the one percenters like holding onto the ball at a critical time and having patience when you’re in the red zone. Those little things that great teams have or the top teams have, we’ve got to learn.”
Those wins against Uni, Parramatta and Penrith; a 1pt loss at Northern Suburbs; and an agonising last minute defeat at the hands of a West Harbour outfit containing Lote Tuqiri, Timana Tahu and Campese Ma’afu, represent positive signs of rejuvenation. But for Rapp, while they are undoubtedly laying down a marker for the future, his side are still underachieving by comparison to where he wants them to be.
“I was hoping that halfway through the season we would have four or five wins, so looking at the games that we have won they’ve been good. The ones that have got away or we’ve lost by a point or under a try, if we could have them at the back half of the season, we’ll win.”
When asked about the difference between this year’s side compared to previous, he wouldn’t be drawn on past history. To him, it’s irrelevant. “I don’t like to compare us to the last two years because we can’t. We’ve got more people on the field, we’ve got better footballers across the field, and we’ve got better numbers in the club as well. But out of this year, we’re progressing”
The passion and enthusiasm Rapp shows for the job, and in particular for the club he also represented as a player, comes across whenever you talk to him, and he’s proud of the effort put in so far. After the West Harbour loss he said, “We’re a team that have been last on the ladder for the last two years and it’s not exactly the most enticing place to come to. I think that we’ve proved over the last ten rounds that things have turned around.”
Looking at their fixtures for the remainder of the season, there is good reason to suggest that Rapp can lead his side to further victories. They entertain Parramatta and Penrith at Forshaw Park – two sides below them on the ladder that they’ve already overcome on their travels. But perhaps their biggest task awaits them this Saturday, when they have a chance to avenge that narrow defeat to Norths in a game that could be pivotal to their chances of improving their position on the ladder.
That defeat at Bon Andrews Oval in round two was an early sign of their improved competitiveness, and it came from a side who were still getting used to each other. When they meet the Shoremen this time round, they can call on the likes of the Brumbies’ Guy Shepherdson and Nic Henderson, and new Waratahs recruit Dan Palmer in the front row, with more Super 14 talent in the backline with Josh Tatupu from the Western Force.
A bonus point victory would put them level on the ladder with their visitors – providing they keep them pointless at the same time – and should provide a huge incentive as part of the pre-match team talk. Should they also concoct another upset victory against one of the top eight, they would have seven wins for the season, which you feel will still fall short of Rapp’s expectations. But compared to their sole victory last year, it’s a major step in the right direction.
Ask him about where he sees the future and how Souths can keep moving forward, and he says, “I think it comes down to our training. We’ve got to be more critical of each other and also work with a higher intensity and not accept a dropped ball, a bad option or a bad decision being made. That’s what we need to work on now.”
And who knows, with another season under his belt; the continued influence and experience of players like Tim McGann and Nathan Sievert; and the gradual maturing of some of his younger talents, we may well see finals football back in the ‘Shire’ in the not too distant future. We’ll know they’ve made it when the TV cameras come rolling back across Captain Cook Bridge!
First published by clubrugby.com.au on June 27th, 2009