New West Harbour coach Todd Louden has gone back to basics at Concord ahead of the 2017 Shute Shield season in an attempt to rebuild the Pirates into a competitive force across all grades.
The former Waratahs and Rebels assistant, who has previously coached Sydney Uni and Randwick, took over the top job after last season and is midway through a unique pre-season aimed at improving the skill level of all players.
“We changed things up quite considerably actually. We didn’t do any conditioning pre-Christmas and just focussed on our skills. We worked on what we’re calling our tactical skills around certain elements and laws of the game so that we were all on the same page,” he said.
“Then post Christmas we’ve worked on our conditioning but we’ve approached it quite differently as well. I was interested to read that the Waratahs are focussing on ‘rugby conditioning’ around the game because we are doing a very similar thing. We’ve also focussed more on power based training over endurance and running.”
In a positive sign for the entire club, over 100 players have been training consistently since before Christmas, giving Louden plenty to work with over summer.
“We’ve seen a massive improvement around some of our support structures but in saying that in some ways we needed to start again from scratch and the players responded really well to that. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t enjoy learning, so it’s been great to learn certain skills together as a group.
“We also looked at our skills around the tackle because the new laws will have a big effect this year. Anything that slips up high around the head will be a penalty or a yellow card so we’ve focussed on our approach there. Looking at last season, that’s where we gave away quite a few penalties but I think you’ll see a significant reduction in that area.”
After winning four of their first six matches in 2016, West Harbour added just two more wins in their final 12 games and finished the season in ninth, however the Pirates lost sevens matches by seven points or less to sides above them on the ladder last year.
“In our conditioning we’ve focussed on repeat maximal work effort because I believe in those tight games, if we can get that little bit extra effort and improve our work ethic, it’ll go a long way,” Louden said.
“At the moment we’re not thinking about how many games we have to win, we’re focussed on the way we play and how we play. I hate using the word, but we have focussed on improving our culture and there has been a massive buy-in there.
“I guess the short answer is that we’ll have a better work ethic because we have some very powerful players, we just need them to give that little bit more in those tight situations.”
The Pirates were hit hard with injuries throughout the 2016 season but Louden thinks an increased focus on conditioning and preparation should help keep his best players on the park.
“We’ve haven’t signed anyone at this stage because we’re trying to focus on the talent that we’ve got. Previously, we’ve had a lot of our juniors leave to play for other clubs so our focus is to run a strong program here so that they don’t need to leave.
“We had a club meeting after training on Saturday and the group decided that the goal this year was to target an improvement in the club championships and I was pleased to hear that. If we can stick to that, it will solve a lot of the challenges.”
Despite his impressive resume, Louden said he is trying to keep his tactical approach relatively simple.
“I’ve coached under 8s through to professional rugby and it doesn’t change. It’s just about creating a positive learning environment where the players feel confident about what they are doing and that is what we’re trying to do here.”
He also dismissed claims that West Harbour has one of the easier draws this year.
“We don’t care who we play. We aren’t worried about the draw, it doesn’t matter who we play or where, we’ll be giving it our all. Some have said that West Harbour has an easier draw, but we play Randwick and Norths in the first two weeks.
“The competition is as fair as it can be and we aren’t worrying about it.”
The Pirates play trials against Sydney Uni, Eastern Suburbs and Manly in March before opening their Shute Shield campaign against Randwick on April 1.