With the end of the season upon us, the Rugby News team of Jim Davis, Jim Webster, Terry Smith, Paul Cook and myself got our collective heads together and spent the last few days compiling the inaugural Rugby News Shute ShieldTeam of the Year.
We imposed relatively few restrictions on who could be selected, but they must have played a decent amount of Shute Shield rugby in 2013. This disqualified a few players, as did injury. There were no limits on the number of players selected from each club.
A couple of players were shoo-ins and plenty of debate surrounded others with the backrow being a particular point of contention. There’s no lack of depth in the 6, 7 and 8 jerseys in Sydney club rugby.
It wasn’t an easy task, and not one undertaken lightly. Plenty of worthy players were overlooked and another strong side could easily be picked from the massive talent pool that is the best club competition in the country.
All that being said, here is the 2013 Rugby News Team of the Year:
Props – Toa Asa and Tim Metcher
Toa Asa is incredibly nimble for a big guy. His work-rate around the park rivals a backrower and the Randwick bookend never just joins a ruck – he destroys them.
Southern Districts tighthead Tim Metcher played against the British and Irish Lions twice this season – first for the Force then for Combined Country – and his scrummaging has been lauded by none other than Al Baxter. Big wraps indeed!
Hooker – Steve Fualau
Fualau filled the gap left by John Ulugia in the Southern Districts front row and proved more than just a stop-gap solution. With considerable ITM Cup experience for Canterbury and Auckland, Fualau was a member of the Pacific Nations Cup winning Samoa side in 2012. When push comes to shove, he can even kick goals.
Locks – Liam Winton and Ben Matwijow
The driving force in the forward packs of their respective teams, Winton and Matwijow get through a mountain of work and consistently impress. Able to play lock and backrow, Sydney University’s Winton earned an overdue Super Rugby call-up as a depleted Waratahs side defeated the Force in Perth.
Matwijow is an imposing figure at the lineout and was rewarded for a couple of seasons of great form for Norths with a call-up to the Western Force team to play the Lions. More chances at Super level surely await.
Flankers – Tim Davidson and Hugh Perrett
The captains of the two best teams in the competition will face-off this weekend, but would complement each other perfectly as teammates. Both excellent defenders who can run the ball and have a knack for scoring tries, we selected Perrett at openside for his on-ball expertise at the breakdown.
No. 8 – Pete Samu
Able to play back row or in the centres, Samu was a rampant ball carrier for the Wicks as they rebounded from a disappointing 2012 to make the finals this year. His two-try performance against West Harbour in the first week of the finals was the stuff of Randwick legend.
Halfback – Josh Holmes
The Warringah scrumhalf re-joined the club scene in search of another professional contract and stood out the entire season. A versatile back, Holmes scored 15-tries, finishing fourth on the leader board. His five-pointer to secure a huge upset win over the Students at University Oval in Round 4 was a particular highlight.
Flyhalf – Rohan Saifoloi
Saifoloi was a unanimous selection in the team. He finished the regular season as the top point-scorer with 242 and carried that form into the finals series with Southern Districts. A Ken Catchpole Medal nominee, many wonder how he hasn’t received a Super Rugby call-up yet.
Centres – Michael McDougall and Bill Meakes
In 2012, McDougall returned to rugby after a season in league and has been one of Eastwood’s best ever since. He defends well above his weight and will be integral to the Woods in the Grand Final this weekend.
Described by Norths coach Scott Fava as another backrower out wide, Meakes has represented Australia at U-20s level before earning a stint in the national Sevens side and national academy. Notoriously difficult to tackle, he’s always ready for an offload and forms a lethal attacking combination with Chris Tuatara-Morrison.
Wings – Greg Jeloudev and Alex Gibbon
Jeloudev, a former athletics star, was a revelation on the wing for Sydney Uni in his first full season in first grade after dabbling in sevens for the last few years. He ended the regular season four tries clear at the top of the leader board on 20 and is amongst the favourites to take out the Catchpole Medal this Friday.
Ironically, Gibbon’s nose for the tryline ultimately stifled his chances of finishing as the season’s top try-scorer. The Southern Districts flyer headed the list for most of the year before he was called up to the NSW Barbarians tour of Argentina, forcing him out for a couple of weeks.
Fullback – Ben Batger
The second top point-scorer in the competition, Batger guided Eastwood to an impressive victory over Manly last weekend with a 23-point haul. The former Brumby and Waratah stands out for his attacking class and distinctive kicking style.
David Lolohea – Starting the season at a whopping 150kg, Lolohea earned a spot on the NSW Barbarians trip to Argentina and was the cornerstone of Matt Briggs’ West Harbour front-row.
Duncan Chubb – One of Southern Districts’ most consistent this season, Chubb has overcome a horrific run of injuries to cement his place in a formidable Rebels front row.
Adam Coleman – The 204cm tall Parramatta lock was another player who made his Super Rugby debut for the Waratahs against the Force in Perth. A product of Tasmania, the proud Two Blue is destined for more top-flight opportunities.
Hugh Roach – Having already played for the Force against the Lions, Roach started out in first grade at Eastwood in the number two jersey but has been equally impressive at openside flanker in the back half of the season.
Cohen Masson – Another promising West Harbour youngster, the Kiwi backrower is an out-and-out fetcher in the mould of Michael Hooper.
Malietoa Hingano – A player of the future, Mali Hingano mixes uncompromising defence with a rambunctious running style and is lethal at the breakdown. He produced the performance of the year against a vastly experienced Uni midfield in the first week of the finals.
Anton La Vin – The Eastern Suburbs back earned his 100th cap this season and gives 100 percent each game. Played on the wing this season but is just as impressive in the centres.
Tom Kingston – The Melbourne Rebels-bound Kingston has been in electric form for Sydney University in the second half of the season from his new found position at fullback. He finished with 11-tries, most of them awesome.
So, plenty to digest there but do you agree or disagree?
National Rugby Championship
Thursday ,  27  Aug 07:30 Leichhardt Oval, Sydney