Season 2015 Preview
Australian Club Champions
By Paul Treanor
This year’s Sydney Premiership kicks off this Saturday with defending premiers and Australian Club Champions, Eastwood, keen to make it back to back premierships. The thrilling one point win over University of Queensland on Valentine’s Day to take out the ACC and trials over the last three weeks have the teams all primed for the first round clash with Randwick this Saturday.
This year’s competition will have the added feature of a change of broadcaster for the match of the day moving from the ABC to Seven Two. Australian Rugby is also attracting increased interest from overseas clubs particularly from France and Japan in this World Cup year. As we have already seen with Pat Sio, it is not just Super Rugby and Wallabies in their sights and so this year’s Shute Shield will see opportunities for players not only from the NRC but also the cashed up clubs from Europe and Japan.
While all clubs will be looking to improve their position from last year the main challengers for Eastwood’s crown are expected to come from the three strong clubs of the competition, despite changes to their personnel and coaches. University have retained their coach and will again be very strong even though they have again lost key players to Super Rugby. Southern Districts are the most stable and should build on last year’s success. Manly have lost a few key players and have a new coach but if trials are any indication they will again be contesting for a place in the finals.
The unanswered questions are who will surprise like Warringah did last year, who will fail to live up to expectations and will Gordon and Penrith field three Colts sides this season?
While Eastwood has the stability of the same coaching staff and a return of our star studded backs the loss a number of key forwards will test the club’s depth. Jed Gillespie has snared himself a contract with the Melbourne Rebels where he will join his team mate from last year Steve Cummins. Our other grand final prop Guy Millar is on the fringe with the Force and with injuries to their props he is currently over in South Africa as cover. This is a late call up as Guy was training with Eastwood last Thursday and was set to play in the trial against West Harbour. At this stage it is doubtful Guy will return to Eastwood this season. Hugh Roach is still available to Eastwood but is only an injury away from a call up into the Waratahs game day team. Pat Sio was landed himself a contract to play in France and will be leaving us mid season. Finally under doctor’s orders Andrew Clyne has been forced to retire while Dylan Brass and Shanin Proctor have also retired due to family and business reasons.
While on the subject of players retiring or leaving crowd favourite Pierre Hola has gone to Subbies and a number of lower grade players have moved on. Lefu Ioapo has moved to Gordon, Jason Havea will captain Penrith, Andrew Ferris has moved to Easts, Tyler Spitz is playing in Hong Kong while Harry Bennett is playing rugby in the US.
James Martin, our leading point scorer last season, is currently touring Europe. Also overseas is Todd Pearce. Both may become available later in the season.
A welcome sight at training was Kyle Shewan, who missed most of last season following that sickening ankle injury he suffered at Chatswood Oval in Round Two. His return is very timely considering the above departures. Also returning to the club after missing last year is Tom Ellem who led us to victory in Third Grade in the 2013 grand final.
Our Casualty Ward still has a number of players on the recovery trail and are not available until later in the season. Nick Batger, Mark Frost and Brad Curtis are continuing with their rehab. Blake Sutton has recently joined them following knee surgery and will miss up to 10 weeks.
This all adds up to a great challenge for the coaching staff to get the next generation of players up to speed. It is also an opportunity for these players to advance their rugby career. Who will be up to the challenge and become the next Eastwood player sort by Super Rugby or the overseas talent scouts?
As great a season 2014 was for the club it still fell short of achieving the Club’s two pillar goal of winning the Shute Shield and winning the Club Championship. We fell just 95 points short of taking out the double. An extra win in First Grade, Third Grade and Colts 1’s would have seen us hold the cup for the first time since 2002 – the last time we achieved our two goals. Since then the Club Championship trophy has basically resided at University. This two goal mission is again a focus for the club this year. It has been made difficult by the loss of depth and a new restructure of Colts but you cannot deny the Eastwood spirit and determination to punch above our weight.
This year we have a change to our Colts coaching staff with Jed Hogan taking over control of our Colts programme. Jed comes with a wealth of coaching experience across Schoolboy, Colts and Grade and we are excited about bringing him on board to develop our Colts programme.
Other changes to coaching staff see Jared Hodges coming into work with Graeme Harrison in Second Grade, Mike Blacker, who coached fourths last year, teams up with Mark Ahearn to take control of Thirds while Neil Tyler, who coached Colts 2 last year, takes on Fourths with Robert Kirby who was also involved in last year’s grand finalists Fourths. Neil will be familiar with a number of the young players coming through from Colts into the Fourth Grade side and will help with the transition to Grade.
All in all we are looking for a successful year for all our seven sides, looking to go back to back in First Grade and take out that all important Club Championship. Can we do it? Only time and performance on the field will tell. Good luck to all our coaches and players for the 2015 season.