After an injury-marred season for Easts in 2019, let's check in with how things are shaping up at Tigerland ahead of this weekend's opening round of Queensland Premier Rugby.
Despite a top-four finish, Easts’ 2019 campaign ended in disappointment with a 51-12 drubbing at the hands of eventual premiers UQ in the minor semi-final.
The loss marred what was otherwise an extremely positive season for the Tigers, with the injury depleted side defying the odds to make the finals, overcoming the absence of a number of key players including captain Matt Gordon and playmaker Jack Frampton for much of the season.
Their dominant set-piece played a major role for the Tigers throughout last year’s campaign, with the likes of Rhys van Nek and Carter Ozanne in the front row and Seru Uru and Tom Milosevic in the back row giving the side a potent weapon at both scrum and lineout time.
They’ll be without Ozanne (Army) and Milosevic (England) this season, although the club has recruited effectively to ensure their forward pack maintains its punch.
One of the club’s favourite sons and former Queensland backrower Michael Gunn has returned to David Wilson Field to bolster the back row with his experience and class, while the club has also recruited former Junior Wallabies and current Queensland Country prop George Francis to go with the returning Kirwan Sanday.
The club will also have the services of former Wallabies captain Ben Mowen for the full season, with his back row combination alongside Gunn and now-Reds number-eight Uru a mouth-watering prospect for the Tigerland faithful.
Young lock Fred Frewtrell is sidelined for the first six weeks of the season with a hamstring injury but will likely play a huge role for the side later in the year, as fellow second rower Puketwawa Garland has impressed the coaching staff throughout preseason.
In the backline, flyhalf Jack Frampton will be out to shake off his recent injury struggles to recapture the sizzling form he can produce at his best, with his combination with scrumhalf Eli Pilz looming as another key aspect of the Tiger’s fortunes in 2020.
Rugby league convert Rhys Jacks will fill Gordon’s boots and wear the number-12 jersey after switching to the 15-man game late last season, while out wide, Souths recruit Mika Tela is a big inclusion for the side on the wings.
With a stacked forward pack and an electric halves pairing, the Tigers are well-placed to again finish in the top-four in 2020 and will be hoping to turn that potential into their first Hospital Challenge Cup title since 2013.
THE INSIDE WORD
“Last year went a lot better than expected. We were glad we used a bigger squad because a lot of the guys from the lower grades ended up playing first grade in the end.
“We were taught a good lesson by Uni in the semi-final and they showed us what finals Rugby is about, and if we do get there again, we want to be better prepared and the boys will have a lot more experience after playing in that game.
“Our preseason has been awesome, I couldn’t have asked anything more from the boys.
“They’ve worked really hard this off-season in the gym and on their conditioning, they’ve been really proactive with training and a lot of them are taking the lead, we haven’t had to coach as much.
“Our focus has been about working better off our set-piece. We had a really good set-piece in both attack and defence, but we sort of struggled to combine it with the backs, so that’s a focus, getting that connection between forwards and backs.”
- Moses Rauluni
PLAYER TO WATCH
After taking a year off in 2019 to focus on his university studies, backrower Michael Gunn is back at Tigerland and will be a key factor for the side this season. Gunn, who has played 8 games for the Queensland Reds, more than makes up for the loss of Tom Milosevic at openside flanker, with his professional experience and leadership already paying dividends for the Tigers side. Alongside Ben Mowen and Seru, and possible Reds captain Liam Wright in the later rounds of the season, gives the Tigers arguable the competition’s best backrow as they look to again qualify for the finals this season.