For the Warringah Rats and Manly Marlins, this week needs no explanation as to its importance.
Of course, the weekend marks the second scheduled ‘Battle of the Beaches’ this year, between the two sides local to the famous Northern Beaches.
However, this occasion of the bi-annual encounter, at Pittwater Park, takes on far greater significance than usual.
Up for grabs this round is top spot on the Shute Shield ladder, a near-vital ingredient in one of the closest Shield seasons ever contested – in fact, according to Manly coach Brian Melrose, “the closest in living memory”.
Despite Melrose’s recognition of both the incredibly parity witnessed in this year’s competition, and the occasion of the match, he is aiming to keep things simple for his side as they head into a tense weekend.
“We’ve enjoyed a consistent year, and we’ve played well, and obviously the Warringah game takes on great significance, but only within the community,” Melrose said.
“At the end of the day, every other side plays a match this weekend - we’re just worried about our own performance and putting ourselves in a position to win the game.”
Evidently, Melrose and his Marlins are attempting to keep things as normal this week as possible - the team even went tenpin bowling on Monday - in the name of “team bonding”.
Despite a match with both finals-like flare and implications ahead of them, Rats’ coach Darren Coleman has also attempted to downplay the noteworthiness of this round.
“We’re aware of what their strengths and weaknesses are… it’s been a pretty normal preparation,” Coleman said.
“It’s bragging rights on the peninsula… it’s a little brother-big brother mentality,” Coleman added, without specifying exactly which club the big brother was.However, the attempts of both coaches to keep tensions low were decimated when the Fins’ James Hilterbrand grabbed the Rats by the tail, mocking the opposition in the Manly Daily midweek.
Despite the captivating blend of hatred and respect of each other these two clubs possess, both teams seem to be acutely aware of the importance and meaning their competition has taken on this year.
When pressed on the seriousness of club footy such as the Shute Shield, especially in a year in which Australian rugby has had little else to cheer about, four words from Hilterbrand summed up the why they partake on the mission they do this weekend.
“It’s up to us.
“It’s how important club rugby is… it’s massive, it’s such a strong culture… there are fans who haven’t missed a game in 20-30 years… nobody’s thinking about themselves. The players are noticing (the importance) with the crowds and quality of the competition”