After an indifferent start to their Hastings Deering Colts season, the Sunshine Coast have managed to string a number of impressive wins together, thanks to a renewed focus on their defence.
With the Falcons suffering an interrupted pre-season with to injuries to a number of key players, they failed to fire in the opening rounds as they lost their first three games.
Having the bye in Round 4 helped to freshen them up, but their trip to Toowoomba in the following weekend to take on the Western Mustangs shaped as a do-or-die clash, despite it being so early in the season.
They were still beset with poor discipline and ball control; but the Falcons somehow managed to prevail 32-14 on the back of a strong defensive effort.
Coach Michael Buckley said he believed this victory was pivotal in kick-starting their season.
“I think Toowoomba was the turning point for us … we turned over a lot of ball, so we had to defend a lot of back-to-back sets and I think we made an extra 80 tackles more than they did, so that was a big win for us,” he said.
This increased defensive resolve was tested in their Round 6 loss to Townsville, but their ensuing two victories against Ipswich and Mackay has restored confidence for the Falcons and put their season back on track.
Whilst Buckley has been pleased with his side’s form in recent weeks, his long-term desire to coach a side filled with home-grown talent appears to be coming to fruition with the coach taking great pleasure in seeing Sunshine Coast juniors playing for the Falcons.
“The boys are either local or have been around the area for a few years … that’s always been my target when I took over as coach … to try and stop the flow towards Brisbane with our local players.
"So to see so many local juniors is pleasing,” he said.
His objective to provide a pathway for local juniors through to the elite level has been aided by the revamped Hastings Deering Colts competition, with Buckley one of many coaches sounding their praise for the format that increased emphasis on the welfare and development of players in their own regions.
“Kids are going to perform better in their own environment and I think it’s just the little things in life that are taken for granted that they really struggle with away from home,” he said.
“It’s a win-win situation because it will keep a lot more players in the game.”
Buckley also has the unique task of coaching his own son Steven who captains the side from lock forward.
Steven, who has been a feature throughout the Falcons junior representative teams, was awarded the Player of the Year in last season’s Colts competition and the workhorse forward has continued to lead by example in 2018.
His performance against Mackay whilst suffering a stomach virus highlighted why his father found it a pleasure to coach him.
“On the weekend, he was throwing up and he didn’t even get to do the warm up, so I had to tell him I couldn’t play him, but he refused to pull out and he ended up playing 57 minutes of really good football,” Buckley said.
Aside from son Steven, the coach also pinpointed the performances of Gympie junior Rowan Jardine and former rugby union prodigy Augie Rangihuna as catalysts in their recent run of form.
“Rowan has been really good for us … his improvement has been outstanding, and he’s worked really hard to be where he is.
“Augie had his best game for us on the weekend and he’s still coming to grips with the game after coming to us from Nudgee as a former First 15 captain,” he said.
The Falcons will look to continue their good run of form when they host the CQ Capras this Sunday at 10.20am.
Elsewhere in the competition, Round 9 will be shortened due to it being a split-round, with Norths kicking off the weekend’s fixtures when they host Mackay at Bishop Park.
A resurgent Burleigh Bears outfit will travel to Townsville to take on the ladder-leading Blackhawks while in Cairns, the Pride will play Wynnum Manly at Barlow Park in an enticing top four showdown.
The Magpies will look to consolidate their strong last-start win when they host the Easts Tigers at Davies Park on Sunday.