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Wests Louden Clear

They may not make the finals in 2017 but West Harbour will play a key role in who makes the cut.

The business end of the 2017 Intrust Super Shute Shield competition is almost upon us, and while Manly Marlins continue to blaze an uncatchable trail at the top of the ladder with 12 wins from 13 matches prior to this afternoon’s clash with Sydney University, the jockeying for the five remaining finals positions should ensure a thrilling finish.

Second spot ahead of today’s Round 14 was held by Manly’s arch- rivals Warringah, the only side to defeat the pacesetters thus far. While Randwick and Eastwood are tucked in nicely behind them in the top four ahead of a fast-improving Southern Districts, and a Northern Suburbs side currently struggling.

All of which leaves traditional powerhouse Sydney University in seventh place, and on the verge of missing out on finals football for the first time this millennia. But in a year where Sydney club rugby’s depth of talent and level of competitiveness has truly stamped its authority back on the national game’s identity, it is the fact that, should the Students surprisingly fall short, even a seventh place finish may be under threat from Gordon and West Harbour, two sides on an upward trajectory.

They actually met this afternoon at Concord Oval, and should the Pirates have come out on top, they will have overtaken the Highlanders into eighth, and taken another step on their intended journey from ‘underachievers’ to ‘title contenders’.

Guiding the club through this seismic transformation is the steady hand of Todd Louden. The former Bulls, Waratahs and Rebels assistant coach, and Sydney University and Randwick head coach, has more than enough weight to his CV to suggest that, after far too many years of false starts, the Pirates may finally have got their man. But even he concedes that this year has been a significant test of his coaching pedigree. “There’s no hiding from it, Wests have been perennial underachievers for decades so when I took it on, I was fully aware of the challenge,” admits Louden. “But I must say, it was a bigger challenge than I’ve ever come across in so many ways – our training ethic and culture were poor. But we’re really starting to make inroads now.”

One win from their first five games, and the concession of just under 37 points a match, was an inauspicious start. But things eventually began to click, and four wins from the next eight games – two notable doubles over both Eastwood and Sydney University, have left the Pirates with a tenuous hope of finals football. Louden however, is happy to keep a lid on expectations. At least for this year.

“I know teams are struggling with us a little bit because when we do play to our game plan, we’re hard to contain and we’re very physical,” he says. “We’ve got a big pack and we’ve got backs that can light you up when they are on, and when they dig in and stick to that game plan, you can see that it’s starting to come good.  It’s now about finishing as well as we can and keeping this group together. If you have a look at Manly, Norths, Souths and Eastwood, they’ve all had a core group of players together for a number of years. We haven’t, so we’re all about building right now.

“I’m not writing this season off, because we’ve got a lot of lessons to learn about getting that discipline around our game – not in terms of the laws of the game – but in playing to our parameters and our game plan. We’re trying to put frameworks rather than structures into our game, so what we put in now, holds us in good stead for next season.”

Words – Paul Cook

Image – JB Photograpy