Sunshine Coast Rugby Union A-Grade grand final between USC Barbarians and Caloundra. Caloundra's Mackenzie Burgess makes a tackle. PHOTO: Patrick Woods
Sunshine Coast Rugby Union A-Grade grand final between USC Barbarians and Caloundra. Caloundra's Mackenzie Burgess makes a tackle. PHOTO: Patrick Woods

Why these 13 rugby union players are ones to watch

As the Sunshine Coast Rugby Union A-grade season prepares to kick-off, the Daily has canvassed local coaches for who they believe will be players to watch this year.

Will Urquhart, Jason De Kock, Geoff Ingram, Mick Phelan, Brad Tronc and Matt Myers have all revealed their top talents and why they should be forces on field.

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While some well known and regular performers are listed, there is also plenty of rising talent that gets a special mention by the region’s rugby union mentors.

Here are 13 standout players to watch this union season on the Sunshine Coast:

UNIVERSITY

Players to watch: Mitchell Portors (No.8), Luke Kimber (open side flanker), Matt Lieder (inside centre), Raa Wilson (flyhalf)

USC Barbarians captain Mitch Portors in action during the 2019 rugby union grand final against Caloundra. Photo: Chris Portors Photography
USC Barbarians captain Mitch Portors in action during the 2019 rugby union grand final against Caloundra. Photo: Chris Portors Photography

The Barbarians were a force last year, finishing minor premiers and featuring in the grand final.

They’ve put together another strong team and coach Brad Tronc has silverware on his mind.

They weren’t there last year but he believed new co-captains Luke Kimber and Matt Lieder were primed to attack.

For me as a coach it made sense to have them as co-captains. They’re two different blokes but they complement each other in those roles so I’m expecting big things from both those guys,” he said.

“They have set a fairly high standard with our trainings and they demand a lot of respect, they’re both physical players and seasoned campaigners.

“Matty went down to Brisbane last year and Luke’s been down with Royals in the Canberra competition for a couple of years.

“I think that experience is probably what we lacked a little bit last year and having two guys like that back in the squad will definitely assist.”

He said former captain Mitchell Portors was also set to be a standout.

“Mitch was captain last year and did a great job in that role but I think now with the freedom to just play and express himself as a footballer rather than those other team expectations I’m expecting a fairly big role for him to play this year,” Tronc said.

“I think that’s going to help him play his best football this year.”

Raa Wilson will be out for the opening rounds of play due to a foot injury sustained during the COVID-19 shutdown, but was due to come back fired up to perform.

“I think Raa will have a big year...when he’s back he’ll add a fair bit to the team,” Tronc said.

WYNNUM

Players to watch: Jacob Wright (inside centre), vice-captain Brandon Vitale (fullback)

Sunshine Coast Rugby Union Competition Wynnum Bugs vs University of Sunshine Coast Brandon Vitale makes a break. Saturday 13th July 2019. ( Richard Waugh)
Sunshine Coast Rugby Union Competition Wynnum Bugs vs University of Sunshine Coast Brandon Vitale makes a break. Saturday 13th July 2019. ( Richard Waugh)

Wynnum placed fourth last year but are intent on a stronger showing this year.

Coach Matt Myers said Wright was fired up and in improved form for this year’s season.

“He’s come back from overseas a better player. He’s more motivated and will step up in the absence of (Savili Petelo/Caloundra),” Myers said.

“He spent a season over in Holland playing in Amsterdam in the national league there. He’s one of our attacking weapons in the back line so it’s good to have him back.”

Coach Myers said motivation was also high for vice-captain Vitale.

“I think the disappointing end to last year has made him and everyone else a bit more motivated,” he said.

“He’s a fast, aggressive fullback and more of a ball running fullback. He likes contact and loves running.”

NOOSA

Players to watch: Ross Kirtland (lock/secondrower) and Will Rogers (No.8).

BOSS Stingrays captain Will Rogers flanked by coaches Josh Mason (left) and Trent de Vere (right).
BOSS Stingrays captain Will Rogers flanked by coaches Josh Mason (left) and Trent de Vere (right).

Noosa are a perennial force on the Coast union scene and will again boast some lively talent.

Coach Michael Phelan believes Kirtland will be a standout in what is his first season with Noosa.

“He’s just been training the house down and he’s pretty handy for us in the lineouts, he is a good line out leader,” he said.

“And, for a lock, he’s very mobile around the paddock.”

Rogers was a regular performer for Noosa and Phelan said he’d be up for the challenge yet again.

“The last couple of years he’s just really grown as a player but as a leader as well so he’s got a really good footy brain on him for a young fella and the boys like playing with him,” Phelan said.

CALOUNDRA

Players to watch: Mac Burgess (flyhalf), Sami Vereneki (fullback).

Sunshine Coast Rugby Union A-Grade grand final between USC Barbarians and Caloundra. Caloundra's Mackenzie Burgess makes a tackle.
Sunshine Coast Rugby Union A-Grade grand final between USC Barbarians and Caloundra. Caloundra's Mackenzie Burgess makes a tackle.

Caloundra head into the season as back-to-back champions and coach Geoff Ingram has listed Mac Burgess and Sami Vereneki as a dynamic pair primed to perform.

“He’s (Burgess) been key to us for the past few years and the same with Sami Vereneki,” Ingram said.

“They’re probably two of the standouts that have been consistent the last few years.

“They’re fit and ready to go.

“Sami has probably put on a little bit of weight in the off-season in a good way, so that’ll be good for him (too).

“Based on previous form we’re expecting him (Burgess) to deliver again.”

MAROOCHYDORE

Players to watch: Campbell Grant (backrower), Isaac Talbot (prop).

Will Urquhart is the new coach of the Maroochydore Swans rugby union team for this year. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Will Urquhart is the new coach of the Maroochydore Swans rugby union team for this year. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

Maroochydore has endured a tough few years on the rugby union scene but with coach Will Urquhart at the helm are keen to rebuild back into a competitive outfit.

Among his charges, Urquhart has listed Campbell Grant and Isaac Talbot as ones up for a solid year.

“They’ve been playing consistently and are young players who have been at the club for a while,” he said.

“So, it’s been really good to see them step up to the plate a bit in off-season and they’re good ball carriers.

“Isaac is a very good scrummager and just a really good clubman as well.

“Isaac was in A-grade last year as a 19-year-old while Campbell was in and out last year but he should be able to cement a bit of a spot this year.”

CABOOLTURE

Player to watch: Hugh Wittleton (secondrower)

Jason de Kock, pictured in 2013, has returned to coach Caboolture Rugby Union. PHOTO: Cooper Brad
Jason de Kock, pictured in 2013, has returned to coach Caboolture Rugby Union. PHOTO: Cooper Brad

New Caboolture coach Jason De Kock says the squad had been putting in the hard yards during training but had been particularly impressed by rising teenager Hugh Wittleton (19).

De Kock last coached Caboolture in 2013 and only returned to the region from South Africa just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

While unsure how his side would stack up against competitors, he expected Wittleton to be among his solid charges come kick-off.

“He is a third generation Wittleton that will start for A-grade,” De Kock said.

“His work rate is really good and he gets all the hard jobs done.

“He played well in the trial and his training is going really well.

“It’ll be his first run on (appearance), he came off the bench last year from Colts games.”