Easts Incredible Start to the Season - The Story behind the Story!
For our long suffering supporters, it must feel like a dream and you don't want to wake up in case it really hasn't happened. Well, I'm here to tell you it is happening and it is real. Easts are undefeated after 4 rounds in the John I Dent Cup with a win against Uni-Norths, a hard-fought draw against Wests and now, impressively, a win against last years Premiers, Royals. You can read the match reports on line and in the Club Face Book page, but for those who are a bit removed from the Club, I want to shed some light on some of the media coverage and dispel some of the myths circulating leading up to the Royals match at the weekend. For the record, I think the game was played hard, in good spirit and both teams should be proud of their on field performance.
As you would all appreciate, the season didn't actually start on the 7th April. It stated back in July last year as soon as the season ended for Easts (which sadly has been the case for many years). The Club was at a point where there were really only 2 options: continue as things were and accept the inevitable, or take a stand and demand of ourselves real change within the Club.
What supporters and those not close to the Club wouldn't have seen is the effort that the coaching staff put in over the pre-season. New to the Club were Jerome Villegas (set piece Coach for 1st Grade), Tevita Siulangapo (Asst Coach 1st grade), Chris Giorgioni (Strength and Conditioning Coach) and of course new Head Coach, Tim Cornforth (more on Tim shortly!). The program that these gentleman ran, accompanied by the existing Colts Coaches (Dan Wetherall, AJ Abel and Somi Lolotonga) was nothing short of outstanding. From October through to March, these guys had the squad working harder than I can remember in recent times but at the same time, changing attitudes and having fun. The hard work in the gym was accompanied by some quality trial games against Parramatta and Gungahlin and of course the Kiama 7s tournament. Why is this important to raise again now? Because some of the recent media and "street talk" would have you believe that Easts recent success is a result of us taking easy options and enticing a coach and players to rebuild our Club at the expense of another. Quite frankly that is rubbish.
ACTRU is an amateur competition however we are fortunate to have a number of professionals that populate our ranks from time to time. In the main though we are amateurs and free to go where we desire to get the most out of enjoying our sport or furthering our own potential. Many of our amateur coaches aspire to coach at a professional level.
In seeking to rebuild our Club we simply didn't have an internal production line of suitable senior coaches to replace John Ross when he decided on a career change (the cycling business). John is a well known and respected figure in ACT Rugby and very much in tune with what was happening across most Clubs in Canberra. Easts were never going to be in position to hire another senior coach with decades of 1st grade experience. Instead, we deliberately went looking for an individual that had the right mindset for what is probably the toughest coaching gig in Canberra. We found Tim! Tim was an assistant coach at Royals, was not likely to be contending for the Head Coach position there for at least a couple of years and saw Easts as an opportunity and a huge challenge. The Canberra Times uses the word "defected". Pretty harsh words really! Tim is a fitness industry professional, and had aspirations to continue building his coaching profile. He's a former professional player (Canberra Vikings, ITM Cup NZ, Aust 7s) and had been a loyal servant of Royals for many years. One would think that they would be happy for him to have this remarkable opportunity. What Tim lacks in experience as a 1st Grade coach, he more than compensates with his ability to extract the most out of players. Again, depending on what you read, some will have you believe that Easts have plundered the ranks of opposing teams to build our 1st Grade squad. I don't shy away from the fact that a number of players have come to Easts this year looking for an opportunity in 1st grade. I won't mention them all by name but the core of our 1st grade team were all playing 2nd and 3rd grade for other Clubs and simply couldn't get an opportunity to progress. It is the mark of Tim as a man and a leader that he has been able to get guys considered as average at other Clubs to rise to their potential. Craig Bellamy has been doing it for over a decade at the Melbourne Storm, Paul Roos and John Longmire have both done it at the Sydney Swans. I remember a certain Rugby Team founded in Canberra in 1996 that did the same.
Don't think for a moment that anything we are doing at the Club is soft. We deserve to celebrate our successes when they come (and it's been a long time between drinks). But we are also not getting carried away - it is early days, 13 more Rounds to go. The coaches, managers and players are under no illusions about the task at hand and will continue to work hard, no short cuts, no excuses.
Easts’ start to the season is a great story but let's make sure that the true story gets told. It is disrespectful to the coaches and players who have worked hard to get us to this point to suggest that success is tied to "defections" or other easy options.