Bond’s Melanie Wilks will again be a key player for the Bull Sharks sevens squad this weekend. Picture: STEPHEN TREMAIN
By Pat McLeod
The Bull Sharks’ men’s and women’s rugby sevens squads have vastly different formulas for success leading into this weekend’s Queensland State Sevens tournament at Noosa.
While men’s coach Damon Virtue has carefully concocted his best possible combination for an all-out assault on the inaugural competition, women’s mentor Cameron Pither has been forced to experiment with an exciting blend of youth and experience.
However, both coaches are determined to oversee one outcome – that the Bond University Rugby brand of exciting, inclusive rugby is stamped on the Noosa tourney.
“Whatever the outcome, I know these players will work hard for each other, but also display that X-factor that makes our style of rugby sevens something special,” said Virtue.
The wily Virtue will never exude over-confidence, but he knows his Bull Sharks’ players have a genuine chance of topping the podium this Sunday afternoon.
The Queensland State Sevens tournament is an exciting addition to the Qld rugby sevens calendar, attracting teams from the traditional premier division 15-a-side competition as well as the spicy inclusion of regional representative sides.
Bond University Rugby’s renewed emphasis on their men’s sevens program has already reaped rewards, with two tournament wins leading into the State champs.
That run hit a hurdle last weekend, when the Bull Sharks fell 24-7 to Souths in the finals stage of the Brisvegas Sevens, after four relatively easy victories.
But that result did not shock Virtue.
“Souths have been the big movers this season,” he said. “So, no the fact they played so well did not surprise me.
“They controlled the play well for three-to-four minutes and in sevens that can spell the end to your chances. And we tried to force our plays and were just gassed.”
The Bull Sharks’ men have a much different aura this weekend with at least half the squad changed from the Brisvegas model.
“Several players had niggling injuries or just needed a rest,” said Virtue. “This weekend was always the focus. This is very close to our best possible side. We are about where we want to be and there is a real determination to finish well.”
The Bull Sharks are blessed with balance. They boast the experience of known play-makers and workaholics such as captain Byron Hutchinson, Connor Pritchard, Nixon Taramai and Dan Boardman plus the explosive volatility of Joey Fittock, Josh Walker and Abele Atunaisa and of course human cannonball, Tautalatasi Tasi.
“This squad has a lot of potential,” says Virtue. “But their most potent asset is just how tight they are as a group ... and that is what will reap the rewards this weekend.”
For women’s coach Pither, a 300-plus-game veteran of the Australian international sevens program between 1996 and 2004, this weekend is all about opportunity.
Unlike Virtue, Pither can only wish for his ‘best-possible’ line-up, with at least eight players from his top 12 squad not available, either through injury or unavailability.
However, excuses aren’t part of his game plan. Adversity always offers an opening.
“Even with the players we are missing, we have a great blend of proven experience and exciting new players,” Pither said.
“We have progressed a lot over the past couple of weeks and there is plenty of positivity leading into this weekend.
“I guess the one main frustration is trying to blend the old and new faces, to get those combinations going. You can see the potential. It is just getting the girls together enough times to realise that potential.”
The Bond women’s sevens came into the post 15-a-side season with a weight of expectation. They had won the prestigious Aon Women’s Uni 7s Series earlier this year.
However, there is a yawning difference between the ‘then’ and ‘now’. The Bull Sharks women still boast an international-strength ‘list’, however many of those are out of reach with Australian and state duties or stricken with injuries.
During the Brisvegas tournament they showed their skill sets with a couple of try-laden performances, but then their short-comings were revealed against eventual grand finalists, Sunnybank and UQ.
Pither has plenty of confidence in the leadership and experience of players of the calibre of Jemma Bemrose, Tay Bates, Melanie Wilks, Caity Costello and Stephanie Rutherford to guide the newer members of sevens squad, such as Gabby Dalton, Paigey Nikora, Mahlia Snowden and Paris Mohr.
“We are positive and excited about our prospects this weekend,” he said.
The men open their tournament taking on Sunshine Coast at 12.20pm on Saturday, with the Bull Sharks women also set to take on Sunshine Coast, at 11am.
All matches are at the Noosa Rugby Club, Bicentennial Drive, Sunshine Beach.