2020 Shute Shield GF: Meet the Teams – Gordon
Gordon head coach Darren Coleman takes us through his 23 man squad for Saturday’s Shute Shield grand final showdown against Eastwood…
All player photos by Andrew Quinn
1. BRANDON FA’AVAE-ELI: A good young prop that did his time in 2nd Grade last year and has nailed down the starting loosehead spot this year and is learning his trade. He’s exceptionally good on the jackal and big hits in defence.
2. MAHE VAILANU: I’m blatantly biased by how highly I rate this player but his set-piece is improving every week. He’s now hitting all his throws in critical play-off games, and everyone knows what a dynamo he is in and around general play. He was always a good footballer, he’s now maturing into a quality hooker, and I just don’t understand how he hasn’t been picked up in a professional program here.
3. CHARLIE ABEL: Charlie, and the whole front three (amongst others) to be honest, are boys who took a leap of faith last year to come and join a team that was coming dead last, so I’m really pleased that those three trusted me to turn this place around. Charlie got some good recognition with a stint at the Melbourne Rebels during Super Rugby AU. The best part of his game since he came back is that he’s regularly on top of our tackle counts. So keep your eye on Charlie for a big shot or two.
4. JACK MARGIN: The players that were here during the dark times of 2016 to 2018, they’re the ones that I get the greatest pleasure out of watching enjoy the good times, and Jack was one of those. He’s performed his way into being one of the premier locks in the league. He’s super-athletic, runs our lineout, and is just a really good team man.
5. JORDAN GODDARD (c): Jordy is just the ultimate leader. You hear stories of people who, when they talk in a group everyone stops and listens, and that’s Jordy. He doesn’t mince his words, neither does he overuse them and he obviously rips in physically. He has an aura about him that the team instantly respects and I’ve been privileged to work with him. He’s one of the best captains I’ve ever worked with.
6. TOM SILK: His ability to fill a hole in our backrow has been the beauty of him all year. He’s bounced from 6, 7 and 8 easily week to week and again, just great to see another good Gordon product come through. I think you’ll be seeing a lot of him in the future, either as a long time 1st Grader or hopefully as a professional player somewhere in the program.
7. JAMES LOUGH: Loughy was a 21-year-old captain during those dark times, and that would’ve been a pretty daunting and difficult experience for a young guy just trying to find his feet in 1st Grade to be the captain of the team and get pumped. The reconfiguration of the pack this week will get him back into the number seven jersey he loves, and I reckon you’ll see a really energetic, dynamic and committed performance from him on the weekend.
8. JACK DEMPSEY: Another Gordon colt – we have six starting in the first XV- who has really increased his buy-in to the group. For his first few weeks with us he was obviously upset to be missing out on the Wallaby squad. But he’s now a leader, and there’ll be no-one trying harder on Saturday than Jack Dempsey.
9. HARRISON GODDARD: As a coach you’re always looking for ways to make players better, and the by-product of that is that you don’t appreciate the things that they are good at enough sometimes. Besides all of Harrison’s obvious skills, the 1998 Premiership halfback – a guy named Kemble Cowan – opened my eyes up when we were talking after the game last Saturday when he told me that the best thing he likes about Harrison is his composure. And if you look at Harrison I don’t think I’ve coached a halfback – particularly at Shute Shield level – that has so few errors and gets flustered as little as he does. He’s only 22 or 23 and even younger in rugby years because he spent so much time sitting down in Melbourne, but he’s just a really composed player.
10. RODNEY IONA: Probably the biggest wrap I could give Rodney is that if he had been injured this season, I don’t think we’d be where we are. Not only because of the way that he’s implemented our game plan but also his organisation that has allowed other players to play to their ability. He has been outstanding. He’s been the genuine Tom Brady for us, and really steered our team around.
11. AHMU TUIMALEALIIFANO: One of the great satisfactions of this year has been watching Ahmu’s progression as a player. He was so hot and cold last year and earlier through his career, and had some real frailties around his defence. But now, his defensive reading on that open wing is not only dependable, it’s genuinely scary. There wouldn’t be too many centres and fullbacks in the league, when they know that Ahmu is coming outside-in to break their ribs, that go looking for him. Also, his carrying, physicality and kick-chase have all been great aspects.
12. JOEY WALTON: We call him ‘Boy Wonder’ and he’s played his part to perfection. He probably hasn’t had the x-factor impact that everyone would have expected him to have being a seasoned Super Rugby player. But his piece of the jigsaw puzzle is perfect. He’s got great speed, he’s a great distributor, has developed really good knowledge now, is a solid defender and has just played his role. He hasn’t had to be ‘the man’, and he’s been a perfect foil there between Rodney and Tasi and it’s been a real pleasure to coach him. He’s an awesome kid.
13. TAUTALATASI TASI: Tasi is clearly our game-breaker and our most dynamic back, his power and acceleration are amazing. Not too dissimilar to Ahmu, I know when he’s coming outside-in in defence that the attack wish they had eyes in their ears because he can be quite daunting when he sneaks up on you. When the game was in the balance last weekend against Easts it was his line break off the scrum that set up Jack Dempsey’s try. When big plays need to happen, Tasi’s our guy.
14. BRANDON QUINN: I’m really happy for Quinny to get back for the play-off’s. He copped a tricky knee injury in the game against Hunter and it was genuinely doubtful for three or four weeks whether he’d get back on the field this season. I could tell that for a Gordon kid and a Gordon colt, you could see he was visibly down. But in true Quinny style he’s done everything possible to get back. In finals he’s increased his playing time and got better each week. He’ll be primed for this week, and probably what people don’t appreciate too much is just the pressure that he exerts on opposition with his kick-chase. I’m really happy that he’s on the field this week for him.
15. REECE MACDONALD: He’s been our ‘Mr Fix-It’, and he’s been great. He’s a really popular member of the team and super-humble. An ex-five-eight and he’s got great skills down those wide channels and our wingers have been put away a lot by his ability to make that last pass down the edges of the field. He had a frustrating start to the year because of limited opportunities and got his chance with some injury, and now to the point where he’s owned that fullback jersey for the last six weeks. He’s a big part of this team.
16. NICK FRASER: Back in the mix the last two weeks, which is great because he’s had a horrible year. It’s unheard of that props strain hamstrings but he’s done the same one three times. He got back with two rounds to go and like all props he’d been in a good paddock, so he’s worked his way back into fitness through 2nd Grade and again, it’s a great reward for a guy that was there for all the dark days at the club and was a big part of the team last year. I’m really happy that he’s going to get a grand final jersey for all his toil for the club over seven or eight years. It’s a good story.
17. JOHN BOSCO TAGALOA: Another good story. Johnny was a 156kgs overweight player playing down in Canberra last year but I was tipped off about his potential. We just had to get in his head and he’s come up and endured a lot of pain, but now he regularly plays at 130kgs, which is an amazing achievement in 12 months. Covid lockdown was real tricky for him but he’s stuck it out. He turned the game against Manly this year on it’s head as the perfect super-sub.
18. DOM HARDMAN: He was an English back-packer in Perth this time last year, played a bit of club rugby over there and got a sniff with the Western Force in the NRC. When we lost Rhys Brodie, John Bosco and Nick Fraser and were really struggling – I thought I was going to be playing prop! – Dom answered the call. He’s just a good, honest, hardworking, high work ethic prop. He’s been a mid-season blessing to be honest.
19. PETER CHANEL TAGALOA: Bosco’s brother and again, big kudos to Pete for sticking through that Covid period when Sydney sucked to be in and they were homesick. He showed some good dedication. He’s a big body that’s quite skilful and there’s so much potential there we just need to find the key to unlock it.
20. BRENDAN MITCHELL: Has been a big part of this team for two years since joining us after moving down to Sydney to follow his heart. He’s a real energy-giver to the team, is super-popular and the leader on the social front, does his job well on the footy field covering lock, six or eight, and he’ll get significant minutes this week and be out there when the game is decided.
21. JACOB ABEL: The most talented of the three Abel brothers. we all know what Jake did for us last year when he was one of our most lethal attackers and a big part of the turnaround. He’s a really tough defender and dynamic ball carrier, and don’t be surprised if the game’s in the balance if Jake’s running game sparks something for us to get over the line.
22. LUCAS PRICE: Has been really unlucky to find himself on the bench because he was a staple of this team and started every game he’d played for us until he had injuries come along at the wrong time, and those injuries just cruelled his ability to lock down a starting position at this end of the season. A real all-rounder – a great defender with good speed, good in the air and really dependable. A solid and consistent player.
23. JALINE GRAHAM: I’m just so proud of the commitment that Jaline’s made to come back from that injury. He’s defying some doctor’s orders to play, and the bravery he showed in his first few contacts last Saturday against Easts was just awesome. It just shows the spirit in the team that he would want to put his body on the line like he has, and he was only on for five minutes but we could all see what he was capable of with his part in the last try.
RHYS BRODIE: Rhys is perfect testament to the adage that the most important player in your team is your tighthead prop. When he played our scrum was scary.
OLA TAUELANGI: Ola is a good young kid, only 20, who had worked his way into the starting team, and in that period of play in the middle of the season he was regularly in our top two or three players every week. I have no doubt that if he hadn’t picked up his lisfranc foot injury against Souths that he would have been on the radar of Super Rugby because he was getting exponentially better every week. He’s a talent.
ELLIS ABRAHAMS: Kudos to Ellis. He would have played over half the season as the starting 12 and has been involved in some great victories. He’s just been a casualty of all our backs being available right at the end of the year. With Joey coming back from Super Rugby and Jaline and Lucas coming good it’s just squeezed him out, but he’s been a stalwart of the team.
OLLIE SMEALLIE: A really positive shout-out to Ollie. He’s been in and out of the starting team for two years now and never let us down. His run-on debut this season was against Randwick at Coogee Oval and he was marking Dylan Pietsch, and he did an outstanding job. He’s one of those guys that is such a positive and infectious player around the team. Everyone loves playing with him and he’s been a big part of getting us there.
BRIAN ‘BILLY’ MELROSE: Assistant coach – Billy is a left-brain thinker, and our rugby chats never stay on the point we started talking about – we can cover a lot of things in a conversation! He’s been a good sounding board with his experience, and it’s just really comforting when you’ve got guys in your coaching team that you trust to do things, he’s been a good acquisition for the team. People were potentially concerned at the start of the year with how it would go with another ex-head coach but Billy’s played his role perfectly. He’s a highly intelligent man and hasn’t come in there in any way to take over. He knows his place and I’ve only got positive things to say about him, I’m really glad I made that appointment at the start of the year.
LIAM WINTON: Assistant coach – Liam doesn’t get the kudos he deserves in this coaching team, even though he coaches fifty percent of our game. He’s a highly intelligent, technical and high quality forwards coach. Our lineout is one of the best in the comp, he’s innovative around our drive plays, and he’s just such a positive energy-giver to that forward pack. The boys love him and would absolutely bleed for him. People talk about our forward pack but bar Jack Dempsey coming in, it’s a relatively unheralded forward pack prior to this year. Their general work ethic is the best in the league, and it’s Liam who has transformed that. He’s the perfect hybrid of the winning culture of Sydney Uni where he won Premierships as a player, but he’s a genuine Penrith bloke through and through. So he’s a knockabout larrikin who knows how to win.
RANDY BASRA: Team Manager – Copped a lot of flak when he came over from the Two Blues but besides his management skills, a side I hadn’t seen to Randy until this year was that he is a genuinely fierce competitor. He enjoys the wins and feels the losses as much as anyone, and he’s been a great ally.
TIM ROWLAND: Head of Performance – I spend more time talking to Tim than I would to Billy and Liam, in the fact that he’s the one that helps me with the session planning and the loadings for the players coming back from injury and how and what they can do. He’s a qualified physio who’s now branched out into strength and conditioning, and a highly intelligent, highly qualified guy that the boys really respect. He’s the reason why guys like Lucas and Jaline and Brandon are on the field because he’s done an excellent job.
AL ROBINSON: Physio – A high quality, aspirational physio that is very professional and has the trust of the boys, and is another person in our organisation that over time, if not sooner, will be in a professional program somewhere.