Every sporting season throws together a fantastically intriguing revival story. So far in 2022, Shute Shield fans have been spoilt with two such narratives to enjoy.
The Western Sydney Two Blues find themselves in the race for a Shute Shield Finals position, seeking to end a postseason hiatus that has been endured since 2012.
Similarly on Sydney’s North Shore, the Manly Marlins find themselves atop the Shute Shield ladder after an uncharacteristically poor 2021 saw the seven-time premiers manage only two wins.
Things looked bleak for Manly following the shortened 2021 season, but what has been achieved since should fill Marlin fans with great optimism moving forward.
Spearheading this revival is Head Coach, Phil Blake, who re-joined the Manly contingent this season after stints overseas and at Sydney University.
“We are doing some nice things, but we understand that the season is going to change dramatically from here on in,” he said.
“The challenge for us is to build on what we’ve achieved already and improve each week.
“Our progress to date will mean little unless we continue our form into and throughout Finals.”
Blake believes taking focus away from external matters and concentrating fully on their own variables has allowed his side to progress in such a short period of time.
Even with a fixture against top-four side Norths tomorrow, Blake insists his group give little thought to their opposition prior to kick-off.
“We haven’t spent much time at all on them [Norths],” said Blake.
“We don’t spend much time on any opposition. 90% of our lead-up is internally focused and all about us.
“I think that’s why we’ve been successful. We don’t clutter our minds with external changes or thoughts.
“We’ll get our own house in order before we worry about whoever our opposition is that week.”
Blake and the Marlin contingent certainly have their house in order so far in 2022, with the ladder leaders yet to lose a game at Manly Oval this year.
Within this streak are consecutive 34-32 wins over both Eastwood and Norths, as well as a grinding 6-point victory over Gordon in Round 8.
“It’s nice to win games at home and reward fans with such intense encounters,” said Blake.
“We’ve overcome some real challenges at home this year and that’ll undoubtedly help us come Finals time.
“While it’s pleasing to get these results at home, we know it’s not the be-all and end-all because winning away against your opposition is equally important.
“If you want to play Finals and be successful, you’re going to have to overcome obstacles at foreign grounds. It’s important we become as comfortable as possible in those naturally uncomfortable environments.”
Despite this capacity to hold their own in the tight tussles, Blake believes he is still heading up a relatively immature side.
With most of the group formed at the side of the year, on-field formations and relationships are still gelling, a factor Blake thinks will become evident at the end of the season.
“We’ve only really played twelve games together including our trial,” he said.
“Most of the stronger sides have probably been together for anywhere between three and five years of footy.
“The boys in our group are yet to complete a season together and most have never played in the Sydney competition.
“While our form is probably a surprise to most, it’s not to me. It hasn’t shocked me because we’ve trained and played at a level which deserves the results we’re seeing.”
While it remains to be seen whether the Marlins can continue this stellar run of form all throughout 2022, it’s undisputed that their current top spot is well deserved.
However, having knocked off their top four companions once this season, it’s not long until that feat will require repeating if an eighth Shute Shield title awaits them in 2022.
Manly will face Northern Suburbs tomorrow at North Sydney Oval. Don’t miss any of the action Live, Ad-Free and On-Demand on Stan Sport.
Round Twelve Fixtures:
Norths v Manly – North Sydney Oval 3pm
Easts v Randwick – Woollahra Oval 3pm
Warringah v Eastwood – Pittwater Rugby Park 3pm
Gordon v West Harbour – Chatswood Oval 3pm
Souths v Two Blues – Forshaw Rugby Park 3pm
Hunter Wildfires v Sydney University – Newcastle Sports Ground 3pm
Be part of the very first Rugby Heaven studio audience!
Join the crew at Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven as part of our live studio audience at Nine Studios in North Sydney – Wednesday 29th June 7:30pm.
All rugby fans are welcome and encouraged to wear their Wallabies and Shute Shield club jerseys on the evening. Be a part of history as Rugby Heaven prepares for its first-ever live audience.