NRC 2017: Greater Sydney Rams Season Preview - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

NRC 2017: Greater Sydney Rams Season Preview

NRC 2017: Greater Sydney Rams Season Preview

The biggest change with the Rams this year is more than just the name from “Western Sydney” back to “Greater Sydney”.  It comes with Eastwood Rugby Club basically taking over the club. After doing an exceptional job of engaging with the strong Pacific Islander supporter base around their Concord Oval base last year, the new Rams will play all home games at Eastwood’s TG Milner ground.

Arguably everyone’s second side last year, the change has caused raised a few eyebrows amongst their passionate supporter base.  It seems they’ve taken a while to warm to the new arrangements, which sees no games in the traditional western Sydney region. Take the fact that it is me, a Queenslander, left having to write this Rams season preview as we were unable to rustle up anyone else with the interest to do it. Something we never had trouble with last year.

So in the interests of completion, I’ve given it a shot. Forgive me for any notable failings.

NRC History:

2014 - Coached by Brian Melrose the Greater Sydney Rams finished the season just outside of the top four with wins over the Perth Spirit, Sydney Stars and a flogging of eventual champions, Brisbane City, the highlights. Winger Jerome McKenzie and lock (yes lock) Jed Holloway were the season standouts.

2015 - The Rams, coached by former Wallaby Jim Williams, crashed and burned in 2015 finishing at the bottom of the log. They enjoyed just one win (over the North Harbour Rays) but it was only a couple of big losses in their last two games that they really rolled over. Holloway was again the star and finished as his team’s leading try scorer.

2016 - They became the Western Sydney Rams and proactively engaged with the Western Sydney community. Coached by John Muggleton, with Jeremy Paul and Joel Wilson as support, the team struggled for consistency early but finished strongly and it was only a last round loss (40-44) to the Eagles that denied them a finals spot.  The team was buzzing come season’s end with unheralded players such as Tyrone Viiaga, Brandon Paenga-Amos, Tupou Sopoaga and David Lolohea establishing themselves as players to watch.

A lone fan stands in defiance.

Will the Horned Army had to TG Milner?

Coaching Staff:

Eastwood coach John Manenti and Manly coach Brian Melrose will work together to try to unite this collection of players from ten different clubs and achieve something the Rams have failed to do so far – play finals footy. With an extremely limited preparation time the challenge is before them, yet as two of the most experience coaches in the competition experience is on their side.

Squad:

From what I can tell there are only two players returning from last year’s squad which is remarkable. back again are hooker Nathan Charles, who only appeared off the bench a couple of times behind Paenga-Amos, and prop Andrew Tuala, who featured six times as a replacement in 2016.

There are touches of class throughout the squad with Waratahs Hugh Roach, Holloway, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Mack Mason expected to feature prominently. But the Rams will rely heavily on club players stepping up to the plate and proving they can perform at a level above Shute Shield.

The combination of the young flyhalf Mason alongside the seemingly ageless Josh Holmes is an exciting prospect and one both can benefit from.

Hookers:

Nathan Charles (Bath), Hugh Roach (Eastwood)

Props:

Duncan Chubb (Souths), Jed Gillespie (Eastwood), Gunz Fuavao (Manly), Andrew Tuala (West Harbour), Rob Lagudi (Eastwood)

Locks:

Adrian Hall (Manly), Josh Redfern (West Harbour), Fergus Lee Warner (Easts), Sam Thomson (Warringah)

Backrow:

Katoni Ale (Manly), Jed Holloway (Souths), David Hickey (Sydney Uni), Kelly Meafua (West Harbour), Albert Tuisue (West Harbour), Tavita Piukala (Eastwood)

Scrumhalf:

Josh Holmes (Warringah), Matt Gonzalez (Eastwood)

Flyhalf:

Jai Ayoub (Eastwood), Mack Mason (Easts), Stuart Dunbar (Sydney Uni)

Centres:

Denis Pili-Gateau (Manly), Kevin Fuavao (Manly), Ben Cotton (West Harbour),

Outside Backs:

John Grant (Cowra Eagles), Taqele Naiyaravoro (West Harbour), Cam Bailey (Manly), Kodie Drury-Hawkins (West Harbour), Liam Windon (Eastwood)

Taqele

Taqele: huge man, huge expectations.

Potential XV:

15 Kodie Drury-Hawkins, 14  Cam Bailey, 13 Denis Pili-Gateau, 12 Kevin Fuavao, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Josh Holmes, 8 Jed Holloway,  7 Katoni Ale, 6 Kelly Meafua, 5 Adrian Hall, 4  Sam Thomson, 3 Duncan Chubb, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Gunz Fuavao

Fixtures:

The Rams get a great chance to kick their season off in style with a home game first up against a handy looking NSW Country Eagles outfit. There’s a tough little period mid-season where they have to travel to Perth and then Melbourne on back to back weekends. That’s followed by a draw after which they have been fortunate to play Fiji at home for the Pacifika Round. On that same day will be a couple of Schoolboy games between Australia v New Zealand and Fiji v Australia Barbarians, making it a must attend occasion for fans in the area.

2017_NRC_Fixtures_Greater_Sydney_Rams

Predictions:

To me the Rams look too weak to challenge for the finals. But I said a similar thing last year and there they were at season’s end pushing for a final spot in that last round.

  • Pedro

    It would be nice to have a bit of consistency with squads in the NRC. The way they played last season made their fans really rally behind them. As it stands despite all the matches I’ve been to I only recognise that horned army guy.

    • RugbyReg

      I’m with you. I actually looked forward to these guys playing last year more than the QLD teams. I am a little shattered it is so different now

    • Jack Mallick

      The associated clubs in NSW move around so much from one team to the other, with the Sydney teams consolidating from 3 into 2 causing some grief as well. You look at the list of aligned clubs now and it is a pigs breakfast.

      It’s sad to see Eastwood lock out the Parra and Penrith clubs. A real shame…

      Still looking forward to going this Sunday to see a good clash with the Eagles.

  • Bay35Pablo

    It all seemed to work last year, especially engaging with the west and PI community. So fark that off then! Typical rugby wisdom.

    Watch out for Ben Cotton in the centres. He was a gun for West Harbour this season.

  • Stin

    Looks a good team to me! Smokies….

  • jamie

    Irony of a tighthead prop being called Chubb is not lost.

  • Charcoal

    I’m disappointed that there’s such a mix-up of different club representatives for each of the NSW teams. That’s makes it very difficult to engender any sort of tribal following. It’s a further demonstration of the ARU’s incompetent management of the competition.

    In respect of the NSW teams, they should have mandated that the Sydney Shute Shield clubs be grouped within their respective regions, North, South and West, and that their representative players be obliged to play for the NRC club in their region. No exceptions or outsiders. I’m sorry NSW Country, but most of the Eagles’ squad are city based players anyway.

    Call each team what you will, but they should be grouped as Northern Sydney comprising Northern Suburbs, Gordon, Manly and Warringah, Southern Sydney comprising Eastern Suburbs, Randwick, Sydney University and Southern Districts and Western Sydney comprising West Harbour, Eastwood, Parramatta and Penrith.

    In a bygone era, before Super Rugby, there used to be annual North Harbour v South Harbour representative fixtures, where the respective teams were drawn from the Shute Shield clubs grouped on either side of the harbour. These games were fiercely contested and played at North Sydney Oval to packed houses, similar to the Grand Finals over the last couple of years. They were at that time the pathway to State and National honours. To the best of my recollection, North Harbour comprised Northern Suburbs, Gordon, Manly, Eastwood and Parramatta and South Harbour comprised Drummoyne, Eastern Suburbs, Randwick, Sydney University and St George.

  • TwoBluesFan

    The NSW franchises (unfortunately that is the appropriate nomenclature as the NRC is not comprised of clubs or unions) need to be reviewed. There is a fresh start each season, a clean slate if you will, where each franchise contracts in whoever they think will provide the best result for the current season – that is the “professional” way. But it has two consequences. Supporters can’t identify with a “team” whose personnel changes from year to year and players aren’t really invested in (in terms of development) as this season is the only one that matters, next year is too far away. I think there is a need for a competition between club and Super Rugby but the current implementation is flawed, hopefully not fatally.

  • juswal

    Same horns, different team. There is plenty of talent in the backs (Holmes, Ayoub/Mason, Fuavao, Pili-Gaitau make up a strong midfield) and some Eastwood muscle in the pack. Can the coaches make this work?

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@RugbyReg

The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

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