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Hospital Cup 2022 Preview – Sunnybank

Tue, 19/04/2022, 6:50 pm
Reds Media Unit
by Reds Media Unit
Sunnybank players Neal McNamara and Alex Niedzwiecki
Sunnybank players Neal McNamara and Alex Niedzwiecki

2021 was the second year Sunnybank were under the direction of head coach Sione Fukofuka. With the club at full strength, the Dragons had the potential to compete with the best teams in the competition, they proved that by toppling reigning premiers Easts in Round 1, but depth was the club’s challenge and as the season went on, they struggled to field a full-strength side week-to-week.

Depth will again be a challenge this year with some of the club’s stalwarts moving on, including last year’s Alec Evans Medal winner and premier grade captain Liam McNamara, but head coach Fukofuka has gone about widening his squad and bringing in some key backrow recruits.

We caught up with Fukofuka to see how the club are looking to change their fortunes as they head into season 2022.

2021 REVIEW

“Upon reflection, we were happy with preseason and the first-third of the season, we prepared well and beat easts in Round 1,” said Fukofuka.

“We competed well in the first few games, but injuries and depth have been our curse and that struck around Round 4 and 5. We pulled ourselves out of the slump and got wins over Norths and Souths and then struggled at the back end of the season again. We took away a lot of learnings from the second part of the season to rectify this year.

“We’ve had an extended preseason this year. We’ve worked hard on extending our premier squad to 45 players or so, getting more learning and understanding into our premier grade, second grade and even third grade squads.

“We have changed our coaching set up, bringing in a scrum coach, Josh Afu will look after line-outs and Kelly (Fukofuka) will look against defence. It’s been a positive transition with fresh ideas.

“We’ve also brought in Owen Flynn as strength & conditioning coach, who has brought a lot of expertise and is helping prepare our players to be able to physically compete in matches for the duration.”

2022 FOCUS

“On the field we want to re-establish our physicality and competitiveness, and encourage players to trust in the process, trust that we have put in the work and we can push ourselves harder than we have before and stay in the fight in those final stages of games.

“For the club as a whole, we have taken a step forward with the appointment of Ben Armstrong as general manager. He is a club stalwart who is driving a full club focus to develop players form juniors through to colts and into seniors, linking back to the Dragon’s DNA, linking back to the family element of the club.

“Driven by Ben, we want to link our colts, seniors and women’s programs closely together and develop role models for our junior teams.”

RECRUITS

Alex Niedzwiecki – Melbourne David Vaki – Melbourne David Feliuai Lene – Romania Pita Halaifonua – New Zealand Chazz Mahina – returning from sabbatical Simana Halaifonoua – returning from sabbatical Tom Mellor – University of Queensland Sam Mellor – University of Queensland Moses Jones – Rugby League Luke Everson – Easts

LOSSES

Laurence Tominiko – Easts Jeff Faamausili – Easts Zac Sheperd – Easts Jezzy Ioane – Rugby League Hayden Sargeant – work sabbatical Josh Walker – work Liam McNamara – Scotland Nesta Mahina – Japan Sam Mata’afa – Souths

SUNNYBANK PLAYER TO WATCH

Alex Niedzwiecki

“Alex starred in our trial games this year. He was close to the best on field in two-of-three of the matches. When he’s fit and we get him on the pitch, we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

OPPOSITION PLAYER TO WATCH

Tautalatasi Tasi – GPS

“Tasi is a good get for GPS. He has good physicality and direction in attack, something I think GPS needed from last year, he’ll provide go forward and options in their backline.”

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