As the Axemen prepare to depart for Adelaide, some key figures have outlined how the state team plans to convert expectations into reality in their pursuit of the Australian Rugby Shield.
Stefan Destounis, the Harlequins openside flanker and breakout star of the Dewar Shield this season, has quickly established himself as a central leader in Coach Tumai Edward’s squad.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to play against these guys all season and then come together as a state team,” reflected Destounis, on the opportunity to train alongside Victoria’s best club talent.
“It’s surprised me the speed at which we were able to come together and gel as one unit after the Dewar season. Everyone is at that stage in their career where they can leave on field antics behind and let bygones be bygones.
“There’s a lot of exciting players here and everyone has worked so hard to get here – the top of Victorian rugby.”
Fresh from guiding Quins to another Dewar Shield title, Destounis isn’t satisfied with his collection of silverware though.
“We have our own expectations as a team for the tournament. Whenever you go somewhere you want to win and take out any trophy on offer,” said Destounis, who breeds rare butterflies in his spare time.
The pain of missing finals footy in 2022 was quickly erased for Melbourne University speedster Tom Herbst, after his surprise selection in the Axemen squad.
But for those who have seen the ascent of the flyer in recent seasons, the selection was a long time in the making.
“Everyone picks things up much quicker at training (compared to club training),” stated Herbst, on the biggest difference he’s encountered.
“The coach explains something once and everyone just gets it.”
Both players agree that their preparations have only been enhanced by the addition of the Melbourne Rebels trial match in their preseason schedule.
“It was an amazing opportunity to play against a professional set up,” said Destounis.
“Obviously we are amateur rugby players who have to work hard during the week at our regular jobs, even before we get to training with our club teams.
“So just the chance to play these guys was a great opportunity. It’s amazing how much you can learn from only 40 minutes of rugby.
“It’s the little bits and pieces you notice; discreet tactics around the breakdown and their ability to adapt on the run was phenomenal.”
His sentiment was echoed by Herbst, who found the step up in professionalism immediately evident.
“They were just faster, stronger and more decisive,” stated part-time underwear model Herbst.
“They were just so clinical and strong, but in the midst of that you learn so much really quickly, and in the end it was a really fun experience to be a part of.
“That experience will really help us. Knowing we can run against people who get paid to do it for a living was a confidence booster.”
The Axemen’s campaign kicks off on Thursday, 29 September at 6pm against Perth. Follow VicStateRugby on socials for score updates.