Catchpole Contenders: Babb exceeding expectations in first Shute Shield season

by Declan Armstrong

Shute Shield and Two Blues fans alike will remember the recent heroics of Western Sydney flanker, Adrian Musico, who in 2018 became the first player from the Club to take home the competitions most prestigious individual accolade.

The historic Catchpole Medal victory came despite the Clubs 10th-place finish in the Shute Shield that year, with Musico earning 17 votes to hold off West Harbour flanker Kelly Meafua (16) and Southern Districts captain Marcus Carbone (15). 

Three seasons on, Sam Babb’s striking Shute Shield campaign is beginning to resemble the rise of Musico in 2018, with Shute Shield Media predicting the young halfback to poll Catchpole votes consistently through his nine appearances so far this year.

In what is an impressive compliment to his maturing skills, Babb has been able to catch the eye of Catchpole voters in what has become an otherwise difficult season for his Two Blues, with the Club still without a victory in 2021. 

Two Blues Head Coach, Joel Rivers, says the 23-year-olds positivity has allowed him to excel despite winless results for the Western Sydney Club. 

“His development comes directly from drawing a learning aspect out of our losses this season,” he said. 

“Sam will review games himself on a Sunday, find what he needs to improve on and be ready to reset come Monday.

“He doesn’t dwell on our form. Where some guys will let it impact their mindset all week, Sam will be focused on how he can amend his mistakes the following Saturday. 

“He’s got some exceptionally high standards which are no doubt beginning to rub off on some of the other boys.” 

Babb joined the Two Blues from the North Shore Club in New Zealand just prior to the 2021 Charter Hall Shute Shield season. 

Already a North Harbour and Auckland representative, Joel Rivers and his coaching team were impressed by Babb’s tenacity for contact and crisp passing abilities. 

But Rivers admits Babb’s skills exceeded expectations upon his arrival at the Western Sydney Club. 

“We certainly didn’t know he was quite as good a kicker as he is,” he said. 

“His ability to exploit space with both his kicking and running game is an area we’re trying utilise more and more in our game.

“Importantly though, Sam had a willingness to learn and adopt our game style from the moment he joined us. 

“Often with these talented young players you see a hesitation to respond to suggestions within the team. However, Sam is respectful of his teammates and extremely easy to coach.” 

Babb’s speed around the ruck has in turn allowed his imposing Two Blues forwards pack to display some previously constrained ball running skills. 

Western Sydney backrower, Tevita Vea, is one such player benefitting from Babb’s attacking mindset and is also expected to poll strongly for the Catchpole Medal in 2021. 

Coach Rivers said a positional change ahead of the Shute Shield season had allowed Vea to link up with his scrumhalf more often. 

“I promised Tevita the number eight jersey this season,” he said. 

“He’s always wanted to play backrow, but because of the squad at our disposal over the last few seasons I’ve needed him at lock.

“Since moving to the back his running game has been excellent. His ability to find gaps in the opposing defence and utilise his offload has really helped us.” 

Rivers says the developing combination between his two stars is a key component of any Two Blues progress. 

“Tevita is so keen on running the ball, I know that’s what he missed when he played league,” he said. 

“Sam really gives Tevita that opportunity and allows him to express himself in space. 

“As a consequence, Tevita knows to be there for Sam when he is searching for a runner. It’s an exciting combination for us moving forward.” 

Catchpole Contenders: 

BJ Hartmann – Manly

Hunter Ward – Manly 

Kaliova Nacina – West Harbour

Otto-Louis Wendt – West Harbour

Sam Babb – Two Blues 

Tevita Vea – Two Blues 

 
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