By Michael Atkinson. Image: QRU Media
After a number of lean years, former GPS Reserve Grade coach Nick Fogarty took the reins at Hugh Courtney Oval in 2015 with the hope turning the club’s fortunes around.
Last year he led them to their best season, in terms of wins, in more than a decade (five, for those of you playing at home).
It could have quite easily been more if not for a couple of stray kicks and some momentary lapses in concentration.
Season 2017 is already shaping up to be better than last, with the whole club applying themselves to a change of attitude and an increase in professionalism, starting at the top with the Premier Grade players.
Last year's results
: 8th (5 wins, 11 losses)
: Tyrone Lefau (Wests), Brad Lacey (Western Force), Tonga Ma’afu (UQ), AJ Campbell (Easts), Shane Tasi (Sunnybank), Elias Power (Easts/NRL Rookie), Che Marion-Fa’alafi (Broncos U20s)
: Garreth Ryan (Brothers), Logan Tibbets (Easts)
: Nick Fogarty – Head Coach; Sio Kite – Assistant Coach
Overview with Nick Fogarty:
The strongest indicator of a promising season ahead for Norths is the number of players Fogarty says have been turning up for training week-in, week-out.
“We’ve got enough players for five senior teams this year plus a Friday night side (Brisbane’s Subbies competition),” said Fogarty.
“There’s been a massive push in the past two years to change the culture of the club. We started our pre-season in mid-October and numbers steadily grew to a point where we were getting 70-80 guys to sessions just before the Christmas break.”
That’s impressive figures for any club, let alone one that has struggled across virtually all grades to feature higher than mid table in the past four seasons.
Even more pleasing for Fogarty is the attitude and enthusiasm of the new recruits to get involved in the club.
Reds training squad members and 2016 NRC representatives Tyrone Lefau and Brady Lacy are new to the Eagles in 2017 and Fogarty says both have brought a strong club mentality and leadership to Shaw Road.
“Tyrone’s excellent, he’s a really good club man,” revealed Fogarty.
“So is Lacey for that matter. He’s been really great. He ran water at our trial match and he’s manned the barbecue for our Saturday sessions.
“(Both) have really embraced the club culture.”
In 2016, five of Norths 11 losses were by a margin of 10 points or less – including a one point defeat to eventual premiers Brothers – and the Eagles can hold their heads high for the way they played for 70 minutes of those games.
For Fogarty, the objective this preseason has been to improve the fitness of his players so that their performances under fatigue improve and they are able to capitalise on any winning position they hold heading into the latter stages of a match.
“Fitness has been a major focus for us over the past few months.”
“We want to improve our decision making under fatigue and in the past when I’ve had successful teams it’s because they were fitter than the opposition. That allowed us to continue a high standard of play in the backend games when our opponents were starting to tire.”
It’s the improvement in physical capacity that the coach hopes will rectify one of the biggest learnings from season 2016.
“We have to be able to make opportunities count. We probably left too many points on the park by not being able to execute in those critical moments in the game," he said.
“We’ve got to be able to compete for the full 80 (minutes). And we were better in the second half of last season, but we still had some lulls which were costly.
“I make reference to that Sunnybank game (round 16) where we led 11-0 with 10 minutes to go and then lost 14-11. We can’t take the foot off.”
It’s a ruthless mentality that has been constant in the most successful sides in Premier Rugby and something we could see shine through for Norths in 2017.
The club has certainly been on the up over the past two seasons and if recruitment and player numbers combined with Fogarty’s meticulous methods for hardening his troops are any indication, there’s no reason to think 2017 won’t see more improvement for the Eagles.
Player/s to watch: Jayden Rodwell (flanker) & Nick Chapman (halfback)
A talented and versatile forward, Rodwell can play hooker or anywhere in the backrow. After a big pre-season, Fogarty expects a fitter Rodwell to have a breakout season in the No.7 jersey this year.
"He’s been in excellent form during the trials and has trimmed down a bit so he will be playing at openside for us this year.”
Nick Chapman claimed Norths’ Best & Fairest medal in 2016, but Fogarty thinks he'll go even better this year.
“He’s been killing it in our fitness drills and he’s really chomping at the bit for the season to start,” the coach said.
“He was coming off knee surgery at the beginning of 2016 so he took some time to find his feet but was playing excellent rugby by the end of the year.”
Expectations for the season?
“We are aiming for a winning season as far as winning more games than we lose. We want to win all our home games, which we think is pretty achievable, and we’ve targeted a few away games where we think wins are definitely possible,” Fogarty said.
“Traditionally eight or nine wins gets a team into the finals so to win three more than we did last year is definitely achievable.”
Who will your team play in the grand final?
“Uni or Brothers I imagine. They were the standouts last year. Brothers built a lot of momentum at the back end of the year and played excellent finals footy.
“University have been the benchmark for the past five seasons so I expect them to feature up the top again in 2017.”