‘We’ve had 11 sudden-death games’: Gordon riding momentum after tightest comp ever

Tue, Aug 30, 2022, 10:53 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Gordon are looking to continue their incredible charge to the Shute Shield final. Photo: Kaz Watson
Gordon are looking to continue their incredible charge to the Shute Shield final. Photo: Kaz Watson

Gordon coach Brian Melrose is hoping they can continue to ride the momentum from a hectic Shute Shield season as they prepare to defend their title against Sydney Uni.

The cancellation of the 2021 season denied them the immediate opportunity to back up their breakthrough 2020 campaign.

Click here to purchase your tickets for the Rugby Championship

This coupled with a poor start to the year, winning just three from their first ten, had Gordon on the verge of missing the finals altogether.

However, an incredible last season charge has put them in Saturday's Grand Final against perennial contenders Sydney Uni.

“After 2020 when you have that type of success, you do tend to lose a lot of guys to pro footy and you put an incredible injury toll on top of that, the start of the year we’ll call in challenging,” Melrose admits.

"People don't realise when you are the defending champions, every team last year, when we went to warm-ups, were preparing to play their best game against you...This year when we lost more people, others weren't thinking about it but it's a very unique thing to be the defending premiers for two years.

"As we've turned it around, it becomes an inspiration to you. After the last couple of weeks, we were very much on our knees and took a bit of a 'one day at a time' approach. We've been fighting this war for a long time and know we've got to the end...we've done a good job staying in each week."

The return of Waratahs Mahe Vailanu and Harrison Goddard came at the perfect time as they defied their seventh-place finish to find themselves in the decider.

“We’ve had 11 sudden-death games. With eight rounds to go we were 10th, in the closest comp in history,” Melrose said.

“Every week you’re looking at results and everyone is beating everyone, to have a one-game spread across 3rd-9th was incredible.

“Even if you won, the team above you were hoping to lose won so it was an incredible finish.

“We were certainly been looking uphill for a fair while and on Saturday, I suppose most people would think we are second favourite but that’s ok.”

Melrose has been around Shute Shield more than most so when he says this is the most even competition he has seen, it carries a fair amount of weight.

A growing professional market has 'flattened' the top teams according to the former Western Sydney Rams boss, with players from his club attracting deals from as far as Germany to ply their trade professionally.

Even Melrose has fielded offers from Russia as the quality of the competition is recognised globally.

“There has never been a more even comp. Since I was a little kid, being a ballboy and as a player…the competitiveness of the competition, when we played Southern Districts and West Harbour, although they are outside the finish, they’re the best bottom-placed teams I have ever played in any relative competition,” Melrose said.

“I was going ‘wow, these guys are coming last’, every week it felt like you were coaching for your life, and most coaches would have felt the same. I talked to a few and at the end of the season, you’re just worn out.

“You always had that feeling you could win but also lose.”

“You couldn’t sit there and write games off like you may have in the past,” captain James Lough added.

“From the bottom of the ladder to the top of the ladder, you have to be switched on or you get knocked off.

“All the top teams were knocked off at some point by teams lower on the ladder.”