Grand Final Key Match-Up – James Kane v Tyson Davis

Photos: AJF Photography & Karen Watson


James Kane has blazed a trial for Sydney University this year with his prodigious boot and eye for the tryline helping the Students to the big dance, and earning him second spot on the competition points-scorers list.

Coming up against him tomorrow afternoon is the electric pace, ball carrying skills and defensive nous of Warringah winger Tyson Davis, keen to get into the thick of the action after coming off the bench in the Rats’ Premiership win last season.

Behind the Ruck caught up with the opposing wingers this week to see how they rate each other, their side’s style of play from the back three, and their team’s chances of glory.



James Kane: “Obviously last year was something that we wanted to remedy, but I think most of our hunger and determination came from the uncertainty around our success due to our age and experience. We were hell-bent on showcasing what we can do, and that despite what everyone says, we can sit at the table with the best and walk away victors. It was obviously going to be no easy task with the moving on of the old guard, blokes like ‘Carts’, ‘Davo’ and Benny Roberts. They obviously left behind a serious legacy and being as young as we are, that left a big challenge to step up to.

“The year as a whole couldn’t really have gone better for us. Of course there have been bumps along the road, but all things considered, its been a phenomenal year. I have to take my hat off to Rob [Taylor] and Rohan [O’Regan], for rounding up such a young team and being able to create a culture that lives and breathes freedom and confidence, and not fearing the unknown, rather learning to live in it. The growth and development that I’ve seen from day one of pre-season until now has been immense. The team has become more and more professional from week-to-week, but still trains and plays with youthfulness, which I believe has been the key to having such success.”

Tyson Davis: “At the start of the season we definitely began with the target on our back. But having three losses in the first seven rounds against three genuine top six teams, such as Manly Norths and Eastwood, definitely got rid of any of the attention around us going back-to-back at that stage, and turned people’s eyes elsewhere, which I think was a blessing. We started the season a bit rusty I think with new combinations and a different playing group to last year, yet with a lot of expectations. We had a few too many errors at that point and let some opportunities slip, and I remember almost having a different backline each week at that point too, which is hard sometimes. But since then we have been building, and DC [Darren Coleman] is a very good coach in terms of what he’s looking for from the team, and what areas we need to work on. We were solely focused on the process each week and getting through the little things such as the review, preview, and the sessions on-field to prepare for the upcoming game as best as possible, and to make sure the mistakes we made the week before weren’t repeated, and that we’d learnt from them.

“We really focused on the week-to-week games and the process, and not so much on the end-goal, which I think did wonders for the team. I think beating Uni in round 10 in a really physical game, which was won off our defence in the end, really set up the back half of our season nicely. Our defence has been a major focus point all year, and [forwards coach] Ben McCormack constantly pushes us as a team and individually to get better, and I think at the back end of the season leading into the finals, we were winning games on our defence. It took a while for our attack to click through injuries or different backline combinations, but we could always count on the defence to stand up, and I think it was critical for the team to grind out some really tough wins against Eastwood in round 16, and then at Southern Districts in round 18, both by a single point. That set us up fantastically for the finals, and is something that is critical going into Saturday’s grand final. The Manly Qualifying Final was our best game of the year to that point, and then I think we outdid that performance against Norths in the semi-final, so it’s a good time to be finding form.

I think the experience for the guys that were there last year was an unforgettable day, and I think the desire to experience that again has driven the boys and played a major role in us being where we are today. Obviously that experience is essential in the big games, and we know when it comes down to it we have done it before and we are ready to do it again. There are also many new guys in the team who are striving to experience that, and watching the grand final DVD of our finals campaign last year has been a major driving force behind them. It gives you tingles watching it. So those boys are super motivated and have wanted to be a part of a special day all season.”

Tyson Davis_Warringah v Souths_2018_KW

Davis in the thick of it against Souths in round 18 – Photo: Karen Watson


Tyson Davis: “This year personally for me has been really successful, mainly because I’ve played 19 or 20 Shute Shield games, plus all the trials. I’ve had a pretty bad run of injuries over my first few 1st grade seasons, including knee and shoulder reconstructions, so having had a full pre-season leading into this year without a reconstruction was really positive. I worked really closely with the Warringah S&C coach Dan Tilley, who I was blessed to have, and we made some great gains. I had an extra speed coach and just did everything I could to put myself physically in the best position I could be in come round one. I think the consistency of playing week-in, week-out really helps your confidence as a player in your position, and has contributed to my breakout year as such. Also playing in a team with your best mates and with some phenomenal players, really helps you have confidence in your role within the team, and confidence in the people around you, which makes my job a lot easier.

“The great thing this year is the use of Hudl as an analysis tool, and as a team we use it a lot. So I’ve been able to have a good look at the Uni backline and how they have been performing over the last six weeks in particular. This way I can have a look at their tendencies, their strengths, and also their weaknesses. James is a totally different winger to myself and has a great boot when he’s given the opportunity. The challenge I guess is definitely managing the backfield, as if we give up an easy corner or open backfield, I know he will be able to find space. So for me it’s crucial this week to make sure the shape of our back three and communication/back field management is on point. We need to be patient in defence too and don’t give easy penalties up, because with his boot it can cost you 50 metres. I think it’s a great mix up too because some of our best attacking threats come off the back of counter attack, so I’ll be happy if he kicks it back to us all game like he has done most the season. The eyes of the likes of Seb Wileman, Josh Holmes and Dave Feltscheer will light up at the thought of counter attack, so I say bring it on. That being said, first and foremost we stop the run option and get a strong defensive line, and we will be waiting if he decides to run it back this week.”

James Kane: “Having less possession than the opposition is not necessarily something that we swore down to at the start of the season, but it’s something that has come naturally with the style that we play. You look at the stats from Super Rugby, and the top three teams or so were the teams with the least possession but most points. In saying that though, it is something that Rob has brought in but definitely evolved over time. There have been crucial games where we have spent close to 10 minutes defending our line, and then suddenly we have somehow ended up under the sticks at the other end. We have 100% faith in our defence, and as soon as you turn the ball over, that’s when we do what we do best.

It is something I am seriously looking forward too. Tyson has some serious strike power, and is definitely a key player in their backline. Of course in the modern game now, if you haven’t done your homework then it could be a very tough day out there. But he is a very good defender and ball carrier, has very good footwork, and has been to the big one before, so naturally has the experience over me. But it’s the grand final, and as I’m sure we’ve all seen, anything can happen. I will certainly have to been on my toes and have my shoulders nice and warm, but it will be interesting to see how the game shapes up. It can certainly get a bit lonely on the wing, so if the ball is in with the forwards a lot, who knows, we could be quite good mates come the final whistle!”


James Kane: “I would be surprised if it was anything else other than a nailbiter, that’s the best part about grand finals. But I think that’s the most exciting part about this particular match-up, both teams have dominant forward packs, and both backlines have a few match winners. I think particularly in the backs we will be hungry for some ball, and according to the trusty weather app, its meant to be a cracking day on Saturday. So hopefully we can have plenty of opportunities to relieve the forwards of their duties, and display just how good we can be.

“I think at the end of the day we have enough experience around the ground for the occasion not to phase us. Having Rohan, Paddy [Ryan], Tolu [Latu] and Dave McDuling to name a few in the forwards, then Jake [Gordon], ‘Fanga’ [Nick Phipps] and Stu [Dunbar] in the backs is plenty for us. They’ve done it before, and they will keep the ship in good shape. It does help having played a final at North Sydney in 2’s last year, you get a rough feel of it. But its not something I’ll be referencing too much. I have 110% faith in blokes like ‘Willo’ [Will McDonnell] and Guy [Porter] controlling the middle of the field, in Timmy [Clements] at the back, and having ‘Potts’ [Harry Potter] on the wing. They have shown all year just how good they can be, I don’t need to need to say anything. Their reputations on the field speak for themselves. and that’s what gives me the confidence to do my job.

James Kane_Sydney Uni v Manly_2018 SF_AJF

Kane’s exit kicks and conversion rate has been a feature of Uni’s season – Photo: AJF Photography

“Warringah have a big forward pack and have shown all season that they relish in close quarter combat, so I think if we don’t match up to that it could be a long day. But you only have to look at our forward pack on paper to understand the sheer wrecking power it possesses. It’s been a massive theme of ours all year, no backwards steps. We’ve done a lot of off-field stuff with the Australian commandos, and learnt what it means to to truly harness that mentality, and thats something that not only the forwards, but the whole team has bought into.

“When your forward pack just keeps going forward, it certainly allows our backline to unleash the talent it’s got to offer. And I know our forwards will do their job so its been a challenge on ourselves as a backline to make sure that we match our boys on the frontline. They also have some serious pace and skill out wide, making them a very difficult opponent to stop when they have momentum, mainly through their game controllers. Obviously [Josh] Holmes and [Hamish] Angus are a combination that rival the best, and they know how to grind out a grand final victory, so the challenge lays with us. But I believe we are still yet to show what we can really do, and what better way to show that than the grand final. So I think we’ve just got to do what we’ve done all season, and we will be in pretty good stead come 5pm on Saturday.”

Tyson Davis: “The critical things for us are the set-piece battle and defence. We really need to turn up in those areas if we want to give ourselves the best chance we can to defend our title. Also we need to be patient as a team and when the opportunity presents itself take it with both hands. Uni are a dangerous team from 1 to 15 and can hurt you in multiple areas. They obviously have a very good set-piece with the likes of Paddy Ryan leading from up front, so it’s crucial to be ready for that battle. Off the back of that, Uni have some really good turnover attack, and Jake Gordon has showed at all levels how dangerous he is with some space, so as a backline we really need to defend well first and foremost. 

I think there will be plenty of opportunity for both teams to play some great running rugby. Uni have done it all year, scoring some great counter attack and long distance tries, so I expect it to be the same. Those young blokes in their backline aren’t going to change their style of play because it’s the grand final, and we are much the same. Seb Wileman is one of the most dangerous players in the Shute Shield with ball in hand, and as a backline this year we have played some great attacking rugby, so I don’t think it will be any different this weekend. The Rats is a huge community club, and we want to play a style of footy that makes our community proud too.

“I’d say the more experience you have in high pressure environments, and the more times you expose yourself to situations like that, the better off you are. The extra experience is a bonus, but our main priority is making sure the bloke next to you knows you will be giving everything you’ve got for him and he will be doing the same for you. It’s crucial to make sure you don’t burn out or get too pumped up early. It’s a long day and you need to be firing come 3pm, and the guys that were there last year can really lead the group in that. I think you learn some things through past experience and that you have to enjoy the day and soak it up as much as possible as well. It’s not often opportunities like playing in a Shute Shield grand final of this calibre come along. Ultimately as a team, we are a bunch of best mates and a really tight playing group and we are playing for each other first and foremost. The occasion, pressure and media etc are all secondary. We are out there to make each other proud, and our families proud. 

“Last year was obviously tough for me coming off a hamstring tear in round 17, so I missed some really tough and exciting games leading into the grand final. I felt really lucky and privileged to be in the 23 last year in such a huge and special occasion, it’s something I’ll cherish forever and never forget. But this year I’m absolutely pumped and excited to have earned a starting spot, and I couldn’t be more ready to go.”


Robert Taylor: “James is a solid player with a laser-like left boot, which give us plenty of run-kick options. His workrate in the back three would go unnoticed by most, but makes a huge difference to our team.”

Darren Coleman: James Kane’s left foot is one of his big assets, and it suits him well with Uni’s game plan to kick a lot of ball away. He’s one of their top two or three kickers in general play. Tyson is more of a running back and a power player, so it is an intriguing match-up in the fact that they are two very different styles of wingers.”

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