After winning back to back Shute Shield premierships, a number of Sydney Uni stars were rewarded with professional contracts around the world, including coach Rob Taylor.
2019 Colts premiership winning coach Michael Hodge has replaced Taylor at Camperdown this season and will mentor a new look Sydney Uni side filled with young players ready to make a name for themselves.
Rugby News caught up with MICHAEL HODGE earlier this week.
What lies ahead:
“It’s been an interesting start to my time as first grade coach at Sydney Uni but it’s a really exciting time as well,” Hodge said.
“Having played at the club for quite a few years, I understand what the place is all about and the way things work. I was also really fortunate to learn from Rob (Taylor) last year and he has and continues to be a great mentor.
“We’ve got a great group of players. The club has always been very player led and this year will be no different. We have lost players to Super Rugby but there are a lot of others ready to step up and take their place, which is really exciting.
LAST SEASON: 12 wins and five losses to finish as minor and major premiers
“It was a very different year compared to 2018. As defending premiers, every team targeted their game against Uni last year and the guys were able to rise to the challenge time after time and continue to improve throughout the season.
“In the grand final, Warringah were exceptional, particularly in that first half and they deserved to get away to that lead. But Rob and the playing group seemed to always be confident that they could fight back and win and to their credit, that’s exactly what they did.
“It was also great to see a number of the younger guys from that team move on to professional contracts after winning back to back premierships. We pride ourselves on being a development club and helping players take the next step in their careers so it’s always special to see players do that.”
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Ins: Matt Hood (Aussie 7s)
Outs: Angus Bell (Waratahs), Tom Horton (Brumbies), Declan Moore (Rebels), Chris Talakai (Waratahs), Guy Porter (Brumbies), Harry Potter (Leicester Tigers UK), Stu Dunbar (Aussie 7s), Josh Kemeny (Rebels), James Kane (UK).
KEY AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT:
“Every match is going to be a challenge because every team wants to beat the defending premiers. Historically, we know how rare it is to win back to back premierships in the Shute Shield and winning three in a row is even rarer so I think we will have to reinvent the way we play slightly because of that.
“Obviously the way the team has played in recent years has been very successful and I’m not looking to change that, but we do need to look at new and creative ways to improve. We’ve lost a number of front rowers to professional contracts so being physical up front is going to be a challenge and we will really need to perform at scrum time each week.
“Because of the limited preparation all the sides have had due to COVID, I think we will see some changes to the way teams play this year and that’s exciting. It might not be perfect, particularly in the earlier rounds but I do think we’ll see plenty of free flowing rugby.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
“I’m really excited to watch Tim Clements at fullback this year. He’s been great in recent years and is a real student of the game. He leads a lot of our attack from the back, he’s a vocal fullback, he’s got a great skill set and he’s really strong in contact.
“A guy like that playing in the Shute Shield, we’re really lucky to have him because I’m very confident that he will go on to play at a higher level in the years ahead.
“Rohan O’Regan is another one. He’s been around for a while now but he’s actually not that old, he’s still only 25 but has a lot of experience. He’s as fit as I’ve seen him so I think he’s in for a big year as well.”
HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS FOR THE SEASON:
“This is a really determined group but at the same time we know how hard it will be to win three premierships in a row, not many teams do that in the Shute Shield.
“We’re really focussed on round one to start with at the moment though because it’s pretty hard to look past a grand final rematch, at Rat Park in round one.
“We’ve played the Rats in the last two grand finals and we haven’t won at Rat Park in a few years now. Our end goal is to win the premiership but right now our sole focus is on round one and a tough road trip to Warringah.
“It’s just one of those great places to play footy, Rat Park and I know I always really enjoyed it when I was playing. It’s set up to be a great afternoon of footy.”
WHO WILL YOU PLAY IN THE GRAND FINAL?
“Warringah are obviously going to be there or thereabouts. In saying that though, I think there are a number of different teams who could easily be there on grand final day.
“Easts and Eastwood have both been in the mix in recent years, Manly and Norths will improve, then with all the changes to this season we might see someone from outside last year’s top six push through and surprise everyone.
“There are a lot of unknowns and that’s going to make it a really exciting season of footy.”