Catchpole Contenders: Medal favourites looking to star in Round Eighteen

Fri, Aug 5, 2022, 5:35 AM
Declan Armstrong
by Declan Armstrong
Donny Freeman has been a revelation in 2022. Photo: David Maclean
Donny Freeman has been a revelation in 2022. Photo: David Maclean

With only five more sleeps until the much-anticipated Catchpole Medal Dinner things couldn’t be tighter amongst our medal contenders, with Round Eighteen action shaping as the definitive fixtures in the 2022 medal count.

Last week, the likes of Christian Yassmin, Ben Houston, Ben Woollett and Chris Bell were all touted as names likely to be heard amongst our medal contenders come Wednesday 10 August.

As we edge closer to our final round of regular season matches, it’s time to preview four more players in contention for this year's Ken Catchpole Medal.

Connor Winchester – Hunter Wildfires

Certainly one of the emerging names in the flyhalf position, Winchester has looked at home since his move from Northern Suburbs in the offseason and is firming as the key general to a Wildfires outfit that spent most of 2022 in the top eight.

Winchester’s left boot in general play aids the Wildfires critically in both offensive and defensive structures, while off the tee the young flyhalf has managed 131-points at a success rate of 86.4%, ranking him first for kicking efficiency across the Shute Shield.

Winchester has made the flyhalf jersey his own at the Hunter Wildfires. Photo: Matthew Mockovic

Having featured predominantly at fullback and wing at Norths, Wildfires coach Scott Coleman believes Winchester has now proved his ability in the flyhalf jersey.

“He’s a real student of the game,” he said.

“His ability to steer us around the park with that trusty left boot shows a maturity that a lot of young flyhalves don’t possess.”

Donny Freeman – Hunter Wildfires

A smokey for the 2022 Catchpole Medal, Freeman has compiled easily the most consistent and notable season in his young career.

A junior of some pedigree, Freeman was part of the Australian Schoolboys team in 2018 alongside the likes of Max Douglas and Will Harris, however, a bad hamstring injury cut his Schoolboys experience short.

Back playing injury-free rugby, Freeman’s success and work rate around the ruck has set him apart in 2022. The Hunter breakaway co-leads the competition in pilfers (19) alongside Gordon’s James Lough, while his defensive consistency has seen him amass 142 tackles at a success rate of 78.9%.

With a vital clash against Gordon this Saturday set to determine his side's Finals ambitions, a standout performance from Freeman could not only lift Hunter into the top eight but lift his name further into contention for the Catchpole Medal.

Jack McCalman – Sydney University

A representative at both NSW and Australian Schoolboys level, McCalman continues to be a model of consistency and leadership within the Sydney University set-up.

Ranked third in completed tackles (219) across the Shute Shield, McCalman’s defensive impact is of paramount importance to his second-placed Students and reflects his leadership style.

Jack McCalman after a soggy win against Easts. Photo: AJF Photography

His support running in attack also has the Uni skipper continually arrive in opportune attacking moments, with McCalman notching eleven tries and ranked fourth amongst Shute Shield try scorers in 2022.

If the Students season is to run deep into Finals, you can be assured that McCalman’s impact will be felt right up until the final whistle.

Teddy Wilson – Eastern Suburbs

One of the Shute Shield’s brightest young talents, the 19-year-old Eastern Suburbs scrumhalf has enjoyed a dream 2022, including multiple Waratahs cameos during the Trans-Tasman season.

Wilson’s speed and agility have caused havoc amongst opposition defenders this year, while his developing partnership with fellow Beasties young-gun Jack Bowen saw the pair earn Junior Wallabies jerseys against Fiji in July.

Having made only eight appearances for Easts this year, Teddy’s inclusion amongst the contenders for the Catchpole Medal is made even more significant and speaks to the impact Wilson has made at Shute Shield level in 2022.

Wilson passes the ball against the Wildfires. Photo: Matthew Mockovic

With six tries across those eight appearances, Wilson’s inclusion is linked heavily to an improved Easts form line, with the wiry scrumhalf offering a genuine attacking option from the base of the ruck.

With the Beasties likely to sneak into the top eight after the conclusion of Round Eighteen, look for Wilson’s name to feature heavily amongst the crop of emerging Shute Shield stars.

Catchpole Contenders

Connor Winchester – Hunter Wildfires

Donny Freeman – Hunter Wildfires

Jack McCalman – Sydney University

Teddy Wilson – Eastern Suburbs

Christian Yassmin – Randwick

Ben Houston – Randwick

Ben Woollett – Warringah

Chris Bell – Eastwood

Kodie Drury-Hawkins – West Harbour

Prez Tufuga – West Harbour

Damien Fleming – West Harbour