With a host of new faces at the club and Luke Oxford entering his second season as head coach, let's check in with Norths ahead of Round 1 of the Hospital Challenge Cup next weekend.
The results may not have showed it in 2019, but positive change is happening at Hugh Courtney Oval.
Norths finished with the wooden spoon last season, winning just two games, but the side showed a willingness to fight for the full 80-minutes under new head coach Luke Oxford, a trait they’ll undoubtedly carry into 2020 as they look to improve their position on the ladder.
Oxford has reinvigorated the Norths program both in defence and attack, and after a year of learning the new systems, he’s hoping the Eagles will transfer that education into results this year.
After four players – Dane Zander, Nick Chapman, Jordan Luke and Connor Chittenden – were rewarded for their club form with NRC selection, Shaw Road has become a hub for players seeking opportunities at the next level, with a number of new faces making their presence known at pre-season training.
Former Australian Schoolboy and Chiefs Academy player Matt Wilshire looms as a huge inclusion for the side in the second row, while the likes of former Wests inside-centre Shai Waiperi and Souths number-eight Harley Fox have added talent and depth to the Norths roster.
The side will also be bolstered by their returning stars with Chapman, Luke and Zander all excelling at the NRC level, the latter earning a contract with the Queensland Reds.
Chapman will move into his preferred number-nine jersey this year as he continues to strive for opportunities at the highest level, with youngster Jacob Prideaux backed to take the playmaking reins at flyhalf.
Luke and Veresa Mataitini will form a lethal combination on the wings, while Waiperi will be out to again make his mark on Premier Rugby after previously starring for the Bulldogs.
Waiperi’s combination with Filipo Daugunu and Ed Fidow was immense in his days at the Kennel, and if he can strike up the same relationship with Luke and Mataitini, the Eagles could boast one of the Hosptial Cup’s most potent attacking backlines.
Chittenden is one player who won’t be back in the blue and maroon however, after the versatile backrower took an opportunity in the Shute Shield with West Harbour.
His absence will open up opportunities in the backline for Norths’ youngsters and new recruits, with competition for spots high throughout preseason.
With Oxford entering his second year as head coach and implementing a number of new strategies to with his core group of stars, Norths could be on the rise in 2020.
THE INSIDE WORD
“Being a first-year head coach, I was a little disappointed with how we performed and where we finished.
“We introduced a lot of things last year to the club and players and I think it was both mentally and physically challenging, there were huge changes, especially in terms of attack and defence systems, but overall I have to give credit to the players, they were pretty determined and once they started seeing the opportunities being created on game day there was a significant improvement.
“When you have a look at the performances in the first eight games, there was a high error rate, a lot of mistakes and a lot of points put on against us. The boys were learning the two new systems simultaneously and pretty exhausted week in week out.
“By the end of the season, the boys started to get an understanding of the systems, made less errors and were more successful in games.
“We saw significant improvements in our game across the board and we put a lot of teams under a lot of pressure. You just have to look at the teams we played, we gave some teams a real big fight and were pretty competitive at the back end of the season.
“This season, I don’t want to put expectations on the players, I just want them to go out there and play. When you put expectations on the players, there then becomes a level of scrutiny and from that scrutiny comes consequences.
“The big things for us is our intention, we don’t want to look too far into the future and we want to make sure whatever we do there’s intent behind it.
“We want to win the small moments, and if we focus on that it’s going to go a long way to performing well throughout the season.
“I just want the boys to trust their instincts in those little moments, play with intent and go after it.”
- Luke Oxford
PLAYER TO WATCH
After his incredible performances in Premier Rugby last season, it’s hard to believe Nick Chapman wasn’t playing in his preferred position for much of 2019. A scrumhalf by trade, Chapman split his time between fullback and flyhalf last season but will get the opportunity to step into the number-nine jersey full time this year for the Eagles. With deceptive pace, exceptional Rugby extinct and the competitive fire to match, Chapman has made a name for himself as one of the competition’s best players and built on that reputation with a strong showing for Brisbane City in his maiden NRC season in 2019. Chapman will be crucial for the Eagles as they aim to pull themselves off the bottom of the ladder, and could be in line for higher honours if he does just that.