Pilz back in the driver’s seat at Tigerland

Wed, Jun 22, 2022, 7:54 AM
Brendan Hertel
by Brendan Hertel
Easts scrumhalf Eli Pilz happy to back playing Rugby after a long stint on the sidelines.
Easts scrumhalf Eli Pilz happy to back playing Rugby after a long stint on the sidelines.

This past weekend Easts claimed arguably their most impressive win of the season, positing a 47-19 win over Bond University in front of a sizeable crowd for Easts Ladies Day, but it was only three weeks ago that the Tigers suffered a 51-15 loss to reigning Premiers UQ on their home turf.

The Tigers have picked themselves up and bounced back. Something that has helped with Easts fortunes over the past few weeks has been the return of some of their Super Rugby stars including forwards Richie Asiata, Rhys van Nek and Will Sankey, but one of the most understated come-backs has been that of scrumhalf Eli Pilz.

Pilz, who was so influential in Easts premiership season in 2020, spent a large chunk of 2021 sidelined due to the second ACL injury of his career. Having returned to the Premier Grade line-up against Brothers, he is relishing being back.

“It’s unreal to be playing again,” said Pilz.

“I said a few years ago that if I had another major injury then I don’t know if I could go through the process to return to play again, but as soon as I did my knee last year, I was looking to see when I could be back in action.

“I think that is down to the enjoyment I get at Easts. Ask anyone who is playing at Easts, playing at home at Tigerland – there is nothing better, and away teams would say it’s a hard place to play. Just the atmosphere at the club, on-and-off the field is so infectious.”

After the heights that the Tigers reached in 2020, 2021 was a tough year for their Premier Grade side. The team lost a host of games in the first half of the season, but managed to work their way back to finish just outside of the top four.

“Last year was tough, it sucks watching footy, I can’t stand it.

“But the guys found some form and bounced back and we’re just outside of finals. We lost depth after that Premiership year, we were tested at the start of the season going through like 40-50 players, once we had some players return form injury and Super Rugby, we were able to build that depth again.

“This year has been much the same, we have a good squad, but a young squad with a lot of guys who are only in their first or second year of playing senior Rugby.

“Going through the backline at the start of the season, the oldest player was Matt Smit at 24 with everyone else around 20 or so, we lacked experience in those opening games in terms of older heads knowing how to stay in the wrestle and control games. The last few weeks we got that mix of old and young and that has been working for us.”

Pilz made his return to Premier Rugby the hard way, playing both third and second grade on his way back to the Hospital Cup, starting at nine in Easts clash against Brothers.

“I loved it actually, it was refreshing,” he said.

“It helps you to think about different aspects of the game and you also get to play with a mix of players, it was great.”

At the ripe old age of 25, Pilz now finds himself as one of the elder statesmen within the Tigers team, helping guide some of the young talent emerging from Easts’ colts system, and those recruited by new head coach Ben Mowen.

“It’s just one of those things, at 25 you don’t expect to be one of the more experienced guys and the old head in the backline, but I enjoy it.

“I like it when the pressure is on and I have to take on the responsibility of game management.

“After the last few weeks I think there is refreshed belief in the team, it’s not that it wasn’t there, nut we’ve had a good few weeks and we’re stepping in a positive direction.”

Easts and Souths this with have the challenge of playing three games within a seven-day turn-around this week, with the two clubs playing their rescheduled Round 5 fixture on Wednesday evening at Chipsy Wood Oval, which was originally abandoned due to wet weather. A challenge that will test the depth at both clubs, as they then back up to play against Sunnybank and Norths respectively in Round 10 this Saturday.

“It’s a different one,” said Pilz.

“I’m someone who it pretty rigid with game day prep so it’s thrown me a bit. We’ll rely on the depth of the club. We have good first, second, third grade and even colts squads so we will be calling on the boys to share the load.”

A carpenter by trade, Pilz will be heading straight from the jobsite to Souths on Wednesday evening.

“I’ll still be working Wednesday, Frampto (Jack Frampton), Jimmy (James Durheim) and myself will all be on site during the day and then heading to Souths. We might sneak in an extra coffee break during the day,” joked Pilz.

You can catch the rescheduled clash between Souths and Easts LIVE and on demand via Stan Sports. Kick-off at 7:35pm AEST.