With a new coach and a number of former stars returning to club, there’s plenty to like about Norths in 2021.
Former Wests head coach Pat Byron has taken over the reigns at Shaw Road, while backline stars Jordan Luke (Western Force) and Conor Chittenden (Shute Shield) are back at the club after pursuing opportunities elsewhere last season.
The club will have to do it without stalwart Nick Chapman, who was called into the Australian Sevens squad, with Reece Tapine (Brumbies), Cody Blackhurst and livewire winger Jon Reuben also moving on.
The likes of Matt Wilshire, Liam Prendergast and Jacob Prideaux will only improve after a full season of Premier Grade in 2020, with the club out to move up the ladder this year.
2020 REVIEWThe scoreboard may not have shown it, but this young Norths side showed plenty of promise last season.
A number of late losses ensured their win-loss ratio wasn’t pretty viewing, but Byron saw plenty of positives watching from afar.
“They were in a lot of games last year, but just weren’t good enough to win more games so from that point of view it was tough,” Byron said.
“I think they lost three games basically in or right on full-time, it is hard to take, but in terms of the playing group there’s still a lot of potential within that team.
“The biggest thing they took away was that we need to improve our preparation a little bit.
“We’ve had a really good pre-season and working with the group and the coaches, it has been really enjoyable.”
2021 FOCUSExpectations are high at Norths, with the side aiming for a top-four finish in 2021.
“Like any team, you go into a season wanting to make that top-four, most teams in the competition will have that goal, and if you’re good enough to get there, then anything can happen,” said Byron.
“The big focus this year is actually on winning games and making that top-four.”
Byron and his staff have also focused on the squad’s preparation and conditioning, marking mindset and fitness as a work-on following last season’s finish.
“A big focus for us has been getting the boys physically ready to play in terms of the strength and conditioning side of things, but also just the clarity of roles around what we’re trying to achieve as a team,” Byron said.
“Like every other team, we’re working out some systems we think are going to work well for us.”
RECRUITSJordan Luke – Western Force
Conor Chittenden – Shute Shield
Will Rogers – Noosa Dolphins
Paulo Leleisiuao – Manawatu (New Zealand)
LOSSESNick Chapman – Australian Sevens
Reece Tapine – Brumbies
PLAYER TO WATCH – TONGA MA’AFU
Injuries have limited Tonga Ma’afu’s career in recent years, but the front-rower is back fit and primed for a big season on the Northside.
He’ll move to his preferred position of hooker, and Byron is excited to see what he can do this year.
“Talking to Tonga, he’s as fit and as confident as he’s ever been,” the coach said.
“He’s been one of the players that’s probably been one of the better performers in Queensland Premier Rugby and it could be a really good season for him.”
OPPOSITION PLAYER TO WATCH – ALEX SMITStuck behind the likes of Tom Milosevic, Michael Gunn and Ben Mowen last season, before suffering a broken jaw, Easts backrower Alex Smit will take centre stage at Tigerland this year and Byron is predicting him to shine.
“I’m probably a little bit biased, but I think Alex Smit at Easts, this could be his first actual season playing Premier Grade regularly,” Byron said.
“I coached Smitty at State High and a little bit at Wests and I’m really keen to see how he goes.
“Obviously he’s in a really good team at Easts, so I think seeing him week-in-week-out in Premier Grade Rugby, he’ll go really well.”