Northern Suburbs coach Simon Cron thinks his side will need to improve by at least twenty per cent this season if they are to win back-to-back Shute Shield titles.
The Shoreman won 13 straight matches at the back end of last season to claim the club’s first premiership in 41 years, however Cron expects the challenge will be far greater this season.
“If we play exactly as we did last year, we’ll lose. We’ve got to evolve,” the coach said.
“It’s hard to put a measure on it, but I think we’ll need to be at least 20% better than we were last year to win it again. We’ve got to keep getting better and find new ways to be innovative, we need new guys to step up to improve our depth and mentally we need to be tougher.”
Following one of the tightest Shute Shield competitions in history last year, Cron admitted it was difficult to know what to expect from a number of teams ahead of the start of the season, particularly those with new coaches.
“It’s probably going to take five or six rounds to get a good gauge on where everyone is at but we wouldn’t be starting the season if we generally didn’t think we could win it. We compete to win in everything we do because in our eyes, if you’re not first, you’re last.
“We’re looking at different ways to play the game. It’s more evolution than complete overhaul and we need to do that all the time. Last year we made little changes throughout the season and this year we need to do the same.
“That’s what is great about coaching a team for a few years. In our first year, we covered off a lot of ball skills, in our second year we became more innovative and that will continue this season.”
While Cron admitted he didn’t expect to see much of Waratahs recruits Irae Simone and Michael Wells this season, Norths have retained the majority of last year’s premiership squad and added former Australian Sevens stars Cam Clark and Con Foley to their roster.
Although Clark, Foley and utility back Bryce Hegarty will all be pushing for a spot in the Waratahs matchday 23, Cron indicated that we may see the trio in Norths’ colours at different points of the season.
“Con and Cam are great additions, they’re both lovely blokes and they fit in well with the playing group. They’ve got a lot of skill and talent so it’ll be exciting to see what they can add to the team.
“I think Bryce will be a star for the Waratahs this year, but he is coming back from a knee injury so he may need or want some time in club rugby. If he does, wow, that will be awesome because he’s a great guy and has a lot of talent.
“Obviously we’d love to have them, but at the same time we want them playing Super Rugby because it’s our job to help them get to that next level.”
Before they begin their title defence, Norths travel to Brisbane to play 2016 Premier Rugby champions Brothers in the Australian Club Championship next weekend.
“We want to win every game we play, so from that perspective, we’re taking it quite seriously. The timing of the game makes things a little difficult but we’ve planned our preseason around it and I think the guys will handle it well,” Cron said.
“There’s also a big chance for some guys that have worked hard over summer to get the first crack at a starting jersey, so there is a lot to play for.
“Brothers are a really good side obviously with a lot of talent. I think they’ll have the majority of their squad back and they’re at home so it’ll be a tough battle for us.”
Cron will also coach the Australian under 20s side this year, however he said he is confident he can manage both roles and a full time job.
“It’s going to be a challenge, there is no denying that but I’ve got to give both programs as much time as possible because I don’t like losing.
“We’ve got a great coaching staff and a very strong leadership group so I think they’ll be fine. At times last year, Angus Sinclair and Will Miller led the reviews and the team meetings and they identified everything that I would have so I think it will help make us a better footy side in the long run.