Shute Shield 2020: Northern Beaches season previews
The powerhouse Warringah Rats are embracing the expectation that comes with sustained success as they chase a fourth straight grand final, while the Manly Marlins have a drought-breaking premiership well and truly in their sights. Adam Lucius speaks with the clubs’ key figures to find out how they’re shaping up.
The Rats have blocked out last year’s heartbreaking grand final loss and have made no secret of their desire to go one better this season.
Self-belief is not in short supply at the Warringah Rats.
Reaching three consecutive grand finals – winning one, losing two – does that to a club.
It's why new coach Mike Ruthven doesn’t hesitate when asked the club's goal heading into the 2020 season.
"To be there on grand final day again – it's that simple," he says
"There's some pretty high expectations from within the club and the wider community given what we've done the last few years.
"We don't back away from that. If anything, we embrace it.
"There is a high set of standards that are non-negotiable."
Many clubs would have been left devastated at losing a grand final to the all-powerful Sydney Uni after leading 16-0 at the hour mark.
While shattered on the day, the Rats have moved on quickly from last year's disappointment.
Ruthven, who takes over the coaching role from Mark Gerard, insists there are no scars.
"It was obviously disappointing to finish up the way we did after 60 minutes of near perfect rugby, but there hasn't been a lot of chat around it," he says.
"That's in the past and now we look forward.
"There are some fresh faces and a new energy and new enthusiasm.
"There are a lot of guys who are aspirational around their footy and will rip in and keep driving good standards.
"Lack of depth or talent won’t be an excuse."
The Rats head into the 2020 campaign without their rock of a playmaker Hamish Angus at fly half.
In addition, forwards Sam Thompson and Maclean Jones are overseas, while Boyd Killingworth and Luke Reimer picked up Super Rugby contracts.
The Rats hope to see all four back towards the second half of the season.
On the plus side, prop Wayne Borsak returns while the club welcomes new faces Luke Masirewa, Charlie McKill and Robbie Nelson.
The side will have a slightly different look about it but there are no plans to drastically alter a playing style that has delivered a hat-trick of grand final appearances.
"I'm a big believer in don’t fix what ain't broke," Ruthven continues.
"There won't be a helluva lot of change.
"It’s about the guys believing in themselves and backing their ability.
"I want them to express themselves and play confident footy.
"The side is really comfortable in the style of footy they play so there's not a huge need for great change."
A talented crop of youngsters are pushing the old guard at the Marlins to new heights, as the club aims to end its long-standing drought.
Matt McGoldrick doesn’t need reminding it's been 23 years since Manly last won the Shute Shield.
"I've been here since 1999. I don't need anyone to tell me how long it's been," the new Marlins coach tells Peninsula Living.
"We've certainly had chances to break the drought and it hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.
"They're a lot of things that have to go right to win a comp. They’re difficult to win."
McGoldrick is about to find out just how difficult.
The former hooker has inherited the top job from Brian Melrose after a long apprenticeship as a lower grade coach and first grade assistant.
It's a daunting challenge but one the man they call "Goldy" is eating up.
"It's footy and I love being involved. As an assistant coach you probably spend as much time on it as the head coach, so that part of it hasn’t really changed," he says.
"It's exciting. We will be alright. We will have a decent team."
McGoldrick and assistant coach Julian Huxley want to bring locals along for the ride – both players and fans – by using more home grown products.
The club has recruited just three players - New Zealand forwards Ivan Fepuleai and Gafa Sua, and Fijian Semi Camaisala.
"It’s time to get back to our roots and start breeding our own again," McGoldrick declares.
"We've been living off guys like Harry Bergelin, Sam Lane, James Hilterbrand and Kotoni Ale for 10 years and we need to start bringing through guys like that every year.
"Young players like Max Douglas, Jack Walsh, Ben Wood, Hunter Ward and Yool Yool are all coming through and doing some good things.
"Guys that were on the cusp of first grade have improved out of sight and the established first graders realise they will have a fight on their hands retaining their spot."
Veteran fly-half Lane can attest to the new level of intensity.
"The older guys know they can’t just rock up and go through the motions. We've got to pull our finger out to keep our spots," he reveals.
"Competition drives people to be better and that is what's happening."
Asked what fans can expect from the Marlins in 2020, McGoldrick says simply: "You've got to have some razzle dazzle when you need it, but you have to have a good base at the set piece, a strong kicking game, good kick chase and good defence.
"They are the areas we have been working on."