Souths lead the way as club rugby returns with a bang

Photo: Malcolm Chuck

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With club rugby going from strength-to-strength in recent years, the start of the 2019 Intrust Super Shute Shield competition had been eagerly awaited ever since the draw was released last November.

One less team following Penrith’s enforced removal brings with it the vagaries of bye rounds, and that lack of presence out West has been seized upon by Parramatta, who have revamped and rebranded to become the Western Sydney Two Blues.

The turnover of head coaches around the grounds – seven new faces in total with only Sydney University, Manly and Eastern Suburbs retaining their incumbents – also adds an air of refreshment to the competition. But it was the move of Darren Coleman from high-flying Warringah – grand finalists in the last two years and Premiers in 2017 – to Gordon, a team that finished bottom of the ladder last season and conceded over 1000 points, that perhaps captured the most intrigue.

“I reckon that if I’d stayed at the Rats, I’m confident that we’d have still been successful, but I wouldn’t have the drive I’ve had this off-season,” Coleman reveals. “I actually like that challenge, and I specifically search for teams that are at the bottom. I love the whole mental part of it, and I love the feeling that the boys get when they become winners. There’s nothing better.”

They’ve tasted that already. Having been the first side to experience the bye in round one, the Highlanders suffered a narrow 4pt loss to Southern Districts, before racking up a bonus point win over the Two Blues last weekend to edge themselves into the top six. Anyone travelling to the green half of the Lower North Shore this season and expecting a walk in the park, is in for the rudest of surprises.

Souths backed up that victory with a win over Randwick in round three, to sit three points clear of the chasing pack at the top with an unblemished record. The only one of the eleven competing teams never to have lifted a Sydney Premiership, the Rebels would love nothing better than to break their duck in what is their 30th anniversary year. But they will need to do so with a team littered with novices.

Former Scotland international and Heineken Cup winner Don Mackinnon is the new man at the helm, having made the transition to the 1st Grade hot seat from his time running the club’s Colts set-up. And he was more than happy to bring a batch of young talent along with him for the ride.

“After the 18 rounds last year in Colts we came 2nd, and we then took 30 away on tour to the UK in the off-season. 27 of those colts are coming back into grade this year, and getting some of them involved was a key element of my approach this year,” he explains. “I trust them…they’ve got the talents and the game experience to go well.”

Northern Suburbs were the only other undefeated side going into today’s round of clashes, with impressive wins recorded away at Warringah (35-14), and Eastwood (44-14), either side of a bye. An august start indeed, especially given the Shoremen are being guided around this year by the youngest head coach in the Intrust Super Shute Shield, 30-year-old Nick Hensley. Age is clearly no barrier for this highly promising mentor.

But the standout performance thus far has come from reigning champions Sydney University. Their 50-0 demolition of Warringah on Good Friday, was a warning sign to the rest of the competition that they mean business again in 2019. It also meant that they had just beaten the team, that beat the team (Easts in Round 2), that had beaten them in round one! It’s going to be that kind of season…

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First published in the NSW Waratahs v Sharks match program, Saturday 27th April, 2019

 

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