The 2019 Griffin Legal John I Dent Cup gets underway this weekend and the big kick-off was celebrated with the traditional season launch at the Plus500 Brumbies HQ at the University of Canberra on Thursday.
Representatives from all seven clubs attended ahead of the premier ACT division providing their insight into their 2019 campaign.All teams play 14 matches across 17 rounds throughout the season, with each team given three byes. The top four at the end of the 17 rounds go into the playoffs to determine the winner of the Griffin Legal John I Dent Cup.
As only the top four enter the playoffs, it shows how important every game of the season is to each club as just one loss could be the difference from contending for the Premiership or going home early.All are eager to get their season underway after intense pre-seasons, with some clubs have major changes to personnel and players, whereas some saw very little.
Everyone is desperate to improve on their 2018 campaigns which saw many upsets, streaks start (and end), unpredictability but most importantly, great rugby.Let’s have a quick look into each of the teams and see how they are lining up heading into the first round this weekend.
Easts had an unforgettable 2018 as they turned the competition upside down as they won their first game in three years and beat the powerhouse Royals team.
The goal for this year is to be more consistent across the board said coach Tim Cornforth and still use the depth of the lower grades to help out wherever needed.
Easts may not be one of the powerhouse teams in the competition, but they sure can cause an upset or two this season.
“Depth is an understatement and when you have a few injuries it can derail a team and a club,” Cornforth said.
“So, this off-season we’ve been recruiting. It all comes down to the lower grades, second grade has to be strong to push for positions in first grade.”Easts Head Coach, Tim Cornforth
Royals are looking dangerous and, despite some of their pre-season results not going their way, points are only awarded during the season.
Royals therefore only have one goal in mind, win. They have recruited young talent across the country with the likes of backrower Jack Farrell from Melbourne and Rory Scott out of Marist College, which they believe will help them over the course of the season.
After a disappointing end to last year’s campaign, Royals want to hit the refresh button and start all over.
An intense pre-season camp means they are looking fit and are ready to dive into the season as soon as possible.
“Tuggeranong were outstanding that day and deserved to win it, it was hard to come back in the second half.
“This year is our 70th anniversary so we have a lot to play for and it’s going to be an exciting year.” Royals Head Coach, Wayne Southwell
The Gungahlin Eagles have a new Coach in former Brumby Marco Caputo and very new looking squad. Last year, the Eagles started off in the worst possible way, winning only one match out of their first ten but somehow crawled their way back only to lose to the Vikings in the preliminary final.
Gungahlin will be looking to challenge the top teams this season, forget playoffs, forget top four, they have got the grit and fight to win.
The Eagles now have some players that have Super Rugby experience with Tom Ross and Mack Hansen who can make a huge impact in the forwards and backs respectively.
“We have finished top four for the last few years and we don’t want to be satisfied with top four. I don’t think you’re doing yourself justice if you’re happy with that. We are going to go out there on Saturday and give it a red-hot crack.” Eagles Head Coach, Marco Caputo
The men from Queanbeyan will be looking to go in a different direction this season when looking back how they ended last year. A mix of experience and youth, strength and agility is what the Whites are looking for when it comes to building a premiership team.
Queanbeyan have been a really successful club in the past and need to return to that.
This year may be one of those rebuilding phases every club goes through, but as we know, anything can happen this competition.
The Whites included a little pre-season trip up in to the Snowy Mountains which proved to be a lot harder than what it seemed.
Perhaps this exactly what Queanbeyan need to build their confidence in the playing group and getting all on the same page before the season starts.
“It was tough. We were just in footy shorts and there was sleet, rain and the winds were ridiculous. But everyone made it up to the top, even all the props and tight five.” Whites Captain, Ryan Jones.
The Tuggeranong Vikings are looking to continue their winning ways into the new season under the direction of Coach Nick Scrivener who now has a much more thorough knowledge of the club after joining in the previous season.
Captain Isaac Thompson warned the rest of the competition that the team aren’t getting ahead of themselves but are confident in their own ability.
The Vikings have lost little to no players over the off-season giving the club a great deal of depth to choose from to play in First Grade.
“They win was great, we celebrated for a couple of days after that. Coming back into training, we had a pretty tough block before Christmas for about six weeks and the boys are pretty fit. And we have had a few late entries to bolster the squad so I’m pretty confident.”Vikings Captain, Isaac Thompson
One club that has gone through a major reshuffle has been Uni-Norths Owls. A new head coach of Sam Rolfe and a team full of young talent including Australian Schoolboys player Dennis Waight, who is eager to get same quality game time.
Rolfe will be looking to bring some experience he’s had from being overseas to get a grip on a team that in some ways has the potential to win but also be quite unpredictable.
Uni-Norths finished last year in sublime form, only losing to Royals in the elimination final. The Owls aren’t here to make up the numbers, they are ambitious Wolfe wants them to be in the top 2 and contesting for the premiership.
“We are not here to make up numbers, we here to win a Premiership.”Owls Head Coach, Sam Rolfe
WESTERN DISTRICT LIONS
Going from Grand Finalists to wooden spooners, that was the story for Wests last year.
They are looking for a fresh start to 2019 after a meaningful trip to Tonga provided the team an opportunity to form a strong bond ahead of the season.
Wests have gone through tough times recently with numbers for juniors and colts low, but that is slowly turning around, and the club is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Wests can produce some terrific fast paced rugby when given the chance, so who knows, they might surprise a few teams here and there but it’s going to be tough.
“You can’t win in first grade without a club around you. We have managed to fill holes with young guns but still have some oldies around.”Lions Club Legend, Ben Coutts
The 2019 John I Dent Cup gets underway this weekend as defending champions Tuggeranong Vikings take on the Gungahlin Eagles at Viking Park at 3:05 PM.
This match will be live streamed on Facebook as the match of the round if you can’t make it to the game.
Meanwhile across the border, the Queanbeyan Whites have a hard task first up against the Canberra Royals.
It looks set to be an exciting season ahead with so many opportunities for all teams to have their chance of lifting the trophy come August 17.
Words: Rob Davison