Overview with Simon Cron:
“It is quite a short program and you only have a short amount of time before the season starts, so our major focus early on was our combinations, we wanted the team to be as cohesive as possible and we did a lot of work on ball skills, line running and support play and I think that served us quite well when the season started.
“We played some great rugby but we were a bit patchy in some games, we’d play 60% of the game well, then 20% not so well and 20% quite average, it was a little up and down but I thought as a group, the boys were great. They played for one another and really enjoyed every minute of it.
"By the time we got to the Perth semi final, we had quite a few season ending injuries and we are looking into why that happened. We had some really bad ones and then had a few more in that semi final. In the first minute and a half, poor Angus Ta’avao broke his leg, then we had a broken collarbone and a few concussions and by the end of that semi final, we really didn’t have much of a team left.
"To me, injuries aren’t luck. At Norths, we do a lot of work on soft tissue injury prevention and it worked really well for us. I think a lot of the injuries that we had were fatigue-based injuries. For example, some players by the end had played 31 games in 32 weeks and I think that is okay if you are a Super Rugby player because you get to go and have an ice bath, but it’s a bit hard when you are a plumber.
"On top of that, because of the NRC rules we were running an extra kilometre a game in some positions. So with the short lead-in time, I think a lot of the injuries were fatigue related. Guys getting in the wrong position at the wrong time, poor body shape etc. I think that is something we need to review and fix in the long run in the best interest of the players.
"I thought we played a pretty good attacking shape, we attacked well and scored some really good tries. I think we also ended up with one of the best defensive records in the comp, so I was really happy with our connections in defence, everyone knew their role and that was pleasing. We had a really positive leadership group and a good learning environment and I think our boys really enjoyed the program.
"I don’t think we managed player loads from a coaching point of view as well as we could have. I would have liked to give a couple of guys a little more rest but we had a few guys come into the tournament with injuries that we didn’t know about. Sam Lane had a grade one calf tear, so we couldn’t really give Angus Sinclair any rest because poor Laney was battling with that. Besides that, I think we managed most things quite well.
"We had a mixture of players from Norths, Eastwood, Souths, Manly, Warringah, Gordon, we had a nice mix of guys and I think they all came together really well and played brilliantly at times. We won six out of seven in the regular season, which I think was a good reflection of where we were at, but we just couldn’t finish it off. At the end of the day, every one of the Rays players and coaches started that program with the goal of winning it and we didn’t, so we didn’t get the result that we wanted.
"I think we underachieved. I think we had the squad to win the whole thing and we didn’t, so we need to look at what we can do better. One of those things is we need to prevent what happened this year, which was a huge attrition rate. We had some really bad injuries and some of those guys are going to take six to seven months to recover."
"It’s hard to name guys because all of the boys stepped up at different times. Obviously Irae Simone won the NRC player of the year, he is an athlete. Matty Lucas as a leader was brilliant, Fitzy (Damien Fitzpatrick) as a leader and as a human being is a great guy, I could keep going. Con Foley should be playing Super Rugby, he was outstanding."
Which of your players deserve to play rugby at a higher level?
"Con (Foley) would have to be the one, he can play 12 or 13 and he was fantastic for us. There are a few others floating about. Obviously Will Miller, he tore the tendon off his toe and missed the last five games but I honestly believe that Will Miller is a Super Rugby player. But at the end of the day, it is our job to get them there and if we don’t, it is on us as coaches. My belief is that we need to keep working because I’d love to see more of those guys playing Super Rugby.
"Con (Foley) is just a natural footballer. His transition speed from Sevens to XVs was phenomenal, I was blown away. I thought defensively we would need to do some work with him considering their is less space and less time in XVs, same in attack, but he is just a natural footballer. He transitioned from Sevens to XVs faster than anyone I have ever seen."
What can the Rays do to improve, on and off the field?
"I think part of our role is to engage the community and our supporter group and we’ve got a meeting this week to discuss how we can do that, how can we get better year on year. It is a great organisation and there are some great people on the board that have an interest in making it an environment where we can be better with our local community and I think that is huge for us. We will sit down and brainstorm some ideas to better engage the community and help grow the game and hopefully we can do that.
"I thought overall, this year was a step forward from previous years. Hopefully next year we will go forward again."
Was the NRC a success in 2016 and can it get better?
"I do think the NRC was more successful this year. I haven’t been involved in previous years but I do feel that it has started to get a little more traction than what I have seen previously. I’ve got a few ideas around how we can make it better and it is a hard one because there are obviously quite a few different stakeholders that want different things.
"I would like us to potentially look at the new rules that they have put in place in the NRC and see if they are right or wrong. Maybe we need to remove a couple to get back to a more traditional game. The Shute Shield is a great competition, so is Super Rugby and some of the rules in the NRC make it very different to those competitions and I think maybe we need to get rid of a few of them.
"It needs to be part of a wider discussion because when we go back and look at player welfare, with the ball in play that little bit longer in the NRC, it leads to more fatigue. Some people see that as a positive, personally I’m more of a rugby purist and I don’t mind someone kicking a penalty goal. It’s an important skill set and it gives everyone else a minute of recovery and that leads to increased intensity in play as things go on.
"They are all things that we need to review and there will always be differing opinions."