Overview with Darren Coleman:
"It was definitely a good season, there is no doubting that. We spoke in the lead up to the grand final that if we could get that last win, it would turn a good season into a great season. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that but if you look at the holistic rugby experience, we wanted to make it an enjoyable one. We wanted the boys to improve as players but enjoy themselves as they did that. From a player development perspective, we had guys that were trying to push into the Wallabies, we had fringe Super Rugby players and we had club guys trying to take that next step and a lot of them did what they needed to do during the NRC.
"Overall, I think we achieved most of what we wanted to achieve. After we had a good regular season, our goal shifted to winning it and that was probably the only downer on the season, not being able to finish the job.
"All the sides had similar preparations this year and that hasn’t been the case in preview seasons so I think that helped us a lot. We had three weeks to bring things together and I think we got the timing right this year and that showed in the early rounds.
"As a coach, winning is your number one priority but if you can do that and play an entertaining style of footy, it’s a bonus and with the class and skillset we had within our squad this year, we were able to do that.
"It was great to watch guys with not much or no Super Rugby experience really stand out. Jake Gordon was fantastic, (Dave) Horwitz stepped up, (Andrew) Deegan was consistent, then you’ve got a guy like Reece Robinson who will go into preseason with a lot more confidence this year. Then we were able to push some club guys like Sam Figg and Alex Newsome, they’re both going over to spend some time with the Force over summer. As a coaching group we take a lot of satisfaction from that.
"I think the most important thing we did was really enjoy each others company, the boys just got along famously. If we weren’t actually talking serious footy or working hard, they were laughing and I think you’re on a good wicket when you walk into a team meeting and you’ve got to stop the group from laughing to get some work done. I think that is the best thing we did.
"Out set piece wasn’t as consistent as we hoped. We had good days, but we could never really get our scrum and lineout on song on the same day. Even in the final, we had a good lineout day but were poor in the scrum and the semi final was the opposite. That flows on to your structured attack, your set piece attack, your first three of four phases of pattern rugby, you can’t really build from that and put variety and creativity into it if you don’t have a platform to launch from.
"The final against Perth played out exactly as we didn’t want it to. It was a greasy sort of field after some rain and dew, then we met a really resilient, tough Perth side who were hard on the ball and didn’t allow us to get that quick recycle that every team shoots for. Full credit to Perth, their game plan was clear and they were physical and showed a lot of heart, as did our guys, we just couldn’t break the shackles to launch our attack. I thought towards the end that if we got a couple more minutes with the ball, we would have won the game. I was really confident in that last 10 minutes that we could score two tries and win but it just didn’t happen. Perth were too good."
"Jake Gordon won our players player and I think he deserved it, he got a nice little prize from the guys that put our team together. Sam Figg was outstanding and so was Paddy Ryan. Not just for his on field play, but for his leadership. He was a first time captain and he was really good to work with. I think he led the carries, the next carrier was six behind him in the final, he worked to a standstill to try and get us home in the final."
Which of your players deserve to play rugby at a higher level?
Sam Figg would have to be the big one. Week in, week out he outplayed full Super Rugby backrows and it wasn’t as if he was accompanied by two Super Rugby players and he was just doing his part, the whole back five of our scrum once we lost Ned Hanigan were all club guys and he’d lead us and in my opinion outplay fully fledged, experienced Super Rugby players weekly.
What can the Eagles do to improve, on and off the field?
I think we need to find a way to get more bums on seats at our games. For the rugby purist, you can always play better footy but it would be bloody hard to play a more entertaining style than we did this year. We felt the support was okay from the country areas we went to, but I have to admit to not get bigger crowds, it was disappointing. The quality of football is far superseding the public support at the moment and that is disappointing. For the amount of hard work and effort the boys put in, I don’t expect full stadiums of 50,000, but I’d love them to be able to consistently run out in front of 3000-4000 people each week and I think that is something the ARU, the NRC and the clubs need to work on.
Was the NRC a success in 2016 and can it get better?
We just need to figure out a way to get more people watching it, coming to the games and on TV. The quality of footy was good and there were no easy wins this year. I still think the one team Super teams have an advantage, when they want to wheel out their strongest teams they are hard to beat, however there's proof in the pudding that the three NSW teams were all a lot more competitive this year, that was a good administrative decision from the ARU.
I think next year will be exciting with the Fijians coming in. Our guys are already talking about it, they’d love to get a little tour to Fiji as part of the NRC next year, particularly the club guys.