The man in charge of Illawarra’s title defence didn’t take long to find his feet in the new role this year, but knows drastic changes are needed if the side is to go on a run in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals Series.
Mat Head, formerly the mentor for the Dragons’ successful Holden Cup outfit, was appointed successor to 2016 Coach of the Year Jason Demetriou this season, taking charge of the side which had just tasted grand final success over Mounties. The transition between the two competitions was a straightforward one.
“It’s been pretty easy, to be honest,” Head tells NSWRL.com.au. “It has its hard moments with not knowing who you’ve got playing for you that week or who you’re playing against, but there’s been up to 10 (players) that have played in my ’20s side last year that have played with me at any one time.
“When you’ve got familiar faces out there you know what their good and bad traits are, they know what my good and bad traits are so you sort of know what’s going to happen week to week.
“It’s a really exciting time for the club, exciting time for myself and all these young players to play a finals series in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW.”
While only a portion of last year’s premiership side has remained for the duration of the season, the young guns Head has inherited are not short of talent; his Holden Cup outfit was among the best in the competition en route to a preliminary finals exit in 2016. The lack of experience, however, does present some challenges.
“We’re just a footy team that needs to worry about set for set,” Head explains. “It’s an old cliché but that’s where we are as a young footy team, we’re exciting, we’ve got a lot of buzz about ourselves and we’re really pumped to make this time of year. We just need consistency in our game and we need all our players to play at that level.
“If we do that, you’re in the finals and anything can happen on any day.”
It’s been a less-than-ideal showing so far for Illawarra, who scraped into eighth place after a last-minute try against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Head’s men will certainly be outsiders for the remainder of the season, but he hopes their Round 25 efforts will provide the boost they need.
“Everything’s about momentum, isn’t it?” Head says. “What we did on the weekend against the Bulldogs was an ordinary 60 minutes but a great 20 minutes, so you like to think you can take a bit of that momentum into the game (against Mounties).
“We build a lot on momentum and confidence so we’ll give it a shake on Sunday and we’ll see where we end up after the 80 minutes.”
The blockbuster grand final rematch will take place at one of Illawarra’s home grounds, UOW Jubilee Oval, from 2pm AEST on Sunday. Fans can be sure not to miss a minute when the game is live streamed on NSWRL.com.au and the NSWRL Facebook page, as part of a triple-header of Intrust Super Premiership NSW finals.