Shute Shield 2020: Hot Shots & Pie-Baggers – Season Wrap
So that’s it, the very tasty regular season main course is over for another year, with the deliciously appetising finals dessert awaiting at the weekend. But in terms of your individual achievers in terms of points and tries, it’s time to count up all the votes and announce the winners!
Having followed the travails of all those perennial scoreboard-botherers across the season, from the opening three rounds, where Sydney Uni’s James Kane and Eastwood’s try-scoring hooker Ed Craig led the way, through the next five weeks of competition, where 2018 Roscoe Fay Trophy winner Christian Kagiassis from Southern Districts had edged in front in search of another award and six players shared the pie-baggers mantle, it’s time to wrap up the final five weeks of the season to see who shone on each particular weekend, and who ended up on top of the pile.
Round nine saw Eastwood’s Tane Edmed continue to excel in his rookie Shute Shield season, with 15pts in the Woodies 45-27 home win over Manly, while Gordon’s Rodney Iona and Norths’ Angus Sinclair were just a point behind with 14 each against Souths and Randwick respectively. The ever-impressive Mahe Vailanu bagged a double in that 56-21 win for the Highlanders, with further braces enjoyed by Harry Emery (Manly) and Terry Fanolua for Penrith against West Harbour. But two apiece for James Turner and Damien Fleming for the Pirates in that game steered the visitors to a hard-fought 39-28 victory.
A week later and it was hat-trick fever up at Rat Park as Warringah put the Two Blues to the sword 58-15 thanks to triples from both Ben Marr and veteran Josh Holmes, with Tyson Davis adding a handy 13pts for good measure. Christian Kagiassis got back into matchday double figures with 10 as Souths saw off Hunter Wildfires at Forshaw Park, with talented young centre Nathan Lawson crossing the chalk twice. But the performance of the round came at Camperdown, where a devastating first half from Randwick helped them to a 42-24 win over Sydney Uni with flyhalf Ben Donaldson racking up 12pts and Triston Reilly adding two more meat pies to his burgeoning season tally.
Anything Messrs Marr and Holmes could do, Alex Newsome and James Turner could do better in round 11, with the Waratahs wing/centre bagging four tries for Eastern Suburbs against Penrith, and Turner matching that effort with four of his own against the Two Blues as West Harbour went back-to-back for the first time in 2020. Dan Donato weighed in with a 16pt haul for the Beasts against the Emus, while Rodney Iona grabbed a vitally important 14pts for Gordon in their 34-24 comeback win over Sydney Uni, and Angus Sinclair knocked another 10pts over the posts for Norths against Souths. Dynamic Shoremen hooker James Margan claimed a double in the same contest, with Justin Tavae also scoring twice for the Pirates at the picturesque Taplin Park.
Round 12 was the most fruitful of the season, with 451pts scored in total – a whopping average of 75pts per game! – and plenty of individual plaudits around the grounds as a result. Harrison Goddard has been a standout in the no.9 jersey for Gordon all season, but he showed just what a precocious young talent he is by seamlessly slipping into the flyhalf role when the Highlanders travelled to the foot of the mountains. After a comeback season in which the Emus have toiled hard and pushed a number of teams, this clash was unfortunately one too many, with Gordon racking up 15 tries with a hat-trick for Tautalatasi Tasi and doubles for Oliver Smeallie and Reece MacDonald. But it was Goddard’s 22pt haul that stood out.
Eastwood ended Warringah’s finals hopes with a comprehensive 47-21 triumph at TG Millner, with ‘Marky Mark’ Nawaqanitawase and Matt Gonzalez shining with three and two tries respectively, while Stu Dunbar continued his welcome return to the Shute Shield with 10pts for Sydney Uni in a must-win game over Norths – they did. And there was plenty to enjoy under the power lines at Forshaw too, as Souths saw their season ended by a gallant Manly in a 43-39 cracker. Christian Kagiassis claimed the individual honours with 14pts, but that was only one ahead of Harley Attwater’s 13, with Marlins winger Fraser Toohey also crossing twice. Finally, Dan Donato continued his late season run of points-scoring form with another 12 for the rampant Beasties as they downed the Two Blues at Lidcombe Oval, with fullback Will Maddocks celebrating his first start of the season in 1st Grade with a hat-trick.
With 80 minutes of the regular season remaining both accolades were up for grabs, with Christian Kagiassis leading a trio of chasers in the shape of Rodney Iona, Tane Edmed and Angus Sinclair points-wise, and West Harbour’s James Turner one in front of Eastwood’s Matt Gonzalez and Warringah’s Ben Marr, and many of the leading lights would shine on the final day.
It was Dan Donato who led the way though, the Easts 10/15 plundering 21pts as the Beasties dismantled arch-rivals Randwick 81-24 at Woollahra Oval. Last season’s leading try-scorer Jack Grant crossed four times in the same match with hooker Moli Sooaemalelagi claiming three and winger Richie Woolf a double, in what was one of the upset scorelines of the season. Marr and Sinclair clashed at Rat Park as the Warringah faithful turned up in as much force as Covid-restrictions would allow to farewell four retiring heroes in the shape of Josh Holmes, Sam Ward, Dave Feltscheer and Rob Kelly. Marr scored once as the Rats sent them off in style with a 26-14 victory – not enough to overtake James Turner, while Sinclair’s solitary conversion also ruled him out of the points race.
It was a family affair for Sydney Uni with Stu Dunbar keeping the Students ticking over with 17pts against the Two Blues and elder brother Hamish scoring two tries, while Aussie Sevens player Matthew Hood continued his return from early-season injury with a hat-trick. And the Hunter Wildfires ended their season on a high with a 51-14 win over Penrith thanks to doubles from George Noa, Hamish McKie and Nimilote Qio, while Rodney Iona staked his claim for the Roscoe Fay Trophy with 14pts for Gordon in a seismic clash against Eastwood. The Highlanders held on for a 29-24 win to rubber-stamp their Minor Premiership, despite a second half rally from the Woodies that included two tries for Matt Gonzalez that briefly saw him sitting out on his own in the pie-bagging stakes.
But it all came down to what amounted to little more than a dead rubber at Taplin Park, and yet turned into a classic as West Harbour and Southern Districts shared 90pts in a thriller that saw both of our season winner’s finish on the same field.
There were doubles aplenty on both sides with Nathan Lawson (Souths) and Josh Petero (Wests) finding the line twice, while Pat Pellegrini added another 10pts to what has been an increasingly impressive season for the young Pirates flyhalf since he assumed the no.10 jersey. However, it was braces to two more players that mattered the most, as Christian Kagiassis ensured a second reign as 1st Grade’s top points-machine with 18pts off the back of two five-pointers, and James Turner crossed twice himself to edge out Matt Gonzalez to finish as the competition’s outright leading try-scorer.
Here’s how the race for the Roscoe Fay Trophy ended up:
For Kagiassis, the personal achievement was a reward for the hard yards he’s done in pre-season and every week at training. And while he admits to keeping one eye on his challengers before a ball was kicked in the final round, he didn’t let that affect his performance.
“It’s always a proud moment for myself as well as my family, knowing that all the hard work I put in pays off,” he told Behind the Ruck. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t keeping an eye on others, however I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of our team performance. I was up against some great players, so an honour for me to win it at the end.”
Having said that, he admits he would have happily swapped his individual accolade for a place in the finals. A third successive season without knockout footy is not what he left Sydney Uni for, and there are plenty of naysayers out there happy to put the boot into the Rebels for missing out again. But in reality, with a new head coach in Todd Louden and a batch of new players to bed together in a limited pre-season and shortened competition, it was always likely that 2020 would be a case of laying the foundations for 2021 and beyond.
“As a club we have made some massive changes this year and are moving in the right direction,” affirms Kagiassis. “Not making the finals wasn’t what any of us wanted, but we are all keen to get back out there and fight to make that top six next season. People are entitled to their own opinions, but we as a club know what we need to do to better ourselves, and we know what we are more than capable of next season. We are all looking forward to further developing Todd’s style of rugby.”
When Louden told me earlier this year that “We can’t do without him.” when asked for his opinion on his star performer for a feature piece, it turned out to be an understatement. No team in the Shute Shield has been more reliant on one player, with ‘Kaggy’ providing just under 36% of his team’s points, and while his goal kicking prowess is unquestionable, a happy knack of finding the line is what marked him out from his fellow challengers in the Roscoe Fay Trophy race.
He crossed the chalk eight times in 12 matches, that’s five more than Rodney Iona, Tane Edmed and Angus Sinclair combined. And his versatility is also a handy attribute, having worn numbers 10, 11, 12 and 15 on his back. He’s stated before that he enjoys fullback the most, but a recent run at flyhalf may have swayed his preference.
“I’m happy with eight tries, but I wouldn’t mind more if I’m completely honest!” he laughs. “I don’t even know where I’ll end up playing next year, but I really enjoyed playing at ten. Hopefully I can play more there in 2021.”
On the try-scoring front, it was a terrific effort from James Turner to finish out in front whilst playing for a side that ended up 10th on the ladder with an average of just over 22pts per match. Here’s how the pie-bagger’s finished up:
Turner has been a player on the rise in the last few seasons. Having come through Newington College and a stint with the Dirty Reds Juniors at Drummoyne, he made his Shute Shield debut for West Harbour back in 2017 at the age of just 18-years-old. A full season in colts in 2018 prepared him for a permanent transition to 1st Grade and he’s been nothing short of terrific ever since, finding the line eight times in 15 starts last year, and 12 in 12 in 2020 – that’s 20 tries in 28 Shute Shield matches!
Standing at 6ft 3in and weighing 99 kgs he is a rangy but powerful winger with bags of speed, footwork, agility and a finisher’s prowess. But he wasn’t always the man on the end of the line.
“I only started playing winger when I came to grade,” he reveals. “I played flyhalf or centre in school and colts, I always scored a few but nothing too special.”
Scoring 12 tries in 12 games in a side that took pretty much half a season to find their attacking feet makes Turner’s achievement even more impressive. West Harbour only scored 71pts across the first seven rounds as head coach Mark Gudmunson battled to gel a new team and a revolving door of players due to injuries, and that inconsistency in the backline in particular was costly. But a positive end to the season as the Pirates went unbeaten for the last month, suggests things had started to click and that the same group could be heading on an upward trajectory in 2021.
“It took us a bit of time but when the team started gelling and the combinations started forming, I started to get heaps of ball, which made my job easier,” says Turner. “We were really confident before Covid and then it hit and we just lost our gel. If you have a look at the all the other teams they’ve had a good group, which will give them that extra touch. We had a whole new forward pack and backline so it just took us some time. I think if we would have made the finals we would have been a dark horse. If this group stays together we will one hundred percent make finals next year.”
Ironically, it was on a familiar surface that he scored that all-important brace against Souths to finish as the leading pie-bagger, as West Harbour’s second temporary home of the season at Taplin Park happens to be the field where he used to run around for the Dirty Reds Juniors. It was an afternoon to cherish.
“Yes, that’s my old my stomping ground!” he confirms. “I was super stoked to get it, as I was a bit nervous going into the last round with Matt Gonzalez and Ben Marr on my tail. This gives me a lot of confidence going into next season. I’m still pretty young so hopefully it gets even better next year and I can pick up a contract somewhere.”
Still only 22, his performances this season should put him in the shop window for further opportunities at the next level. He’s already had a taste of it with the NSW Country Eagles in the NRC, but he’s ready to try and take that next step – be that in Australia or overseas.
“I definitely want to take my footy to the next level, I think I can. It’s going to be tough to get a gig in Australia, so I’m hoping to try and go to Japan.”
Watch this space…