Warringah prop Rory O’Connor doesn’t remember much about the 2017 Shute Shield final, except the feeling at full-time, one that he and his teammates are chasing once again.
The Rats’ win was one of the most extraordinary rugby stories of 2017, coming just two months after the death of Lachlan Ward, the brother of captain, Sam Ward, in a fourth-grade game.
“I think it just made all the late nights training really made it worth it but I almost can't really remember it,” O’Connor said.
“It was so quick, so much elation, especially for Wardy, Sam Ward the captain and all that emotion ,everyone was just ecstatic.
“In some ways, it felt like it lasted a long time but it was really quick, but it was great.”
Warringah have kept the bulk of their championship team heading into 2018, and there'll be no easing into the year, with a grand final rematch against Norths at North Sydney Oval to kick off the year.
In an unusual position as the defending premiers, O’Connor said they certainly felt the other teams closing in.
“The shield was slipping out of my hands in the photos, now we're the hunted," he said.
“Last year we could sneak up on a few people and try and win with people thinking we're usually a fifth or sixth-placed team but now every week, teams won't have any excuse not to get up for the game, so that will really be a challenge, but it's good.
“We love that.”
One of the teams that wants to find its way back into the top echelon of the competition is Sydney Uni, who missed the finals for the first time since 1998 last season.
Backrower Rohan O’Reagan said they had moved on from the disappointment of last season, with new coach Rob Taylor taking over in 2018.
“It was incredibly disappointing last year but in saying that, this is a new nine months of the competition, it's a new Shute Shield, so we're not holding onto any grudges from last year,” he said..
“It's a new group of boys, new coach, so no grudges from last year.
“Still the hard work principle that we pride ourselves on at Uni but a lot of skills.
“Some of his (Taylor’s) New Zealand philosophies of rugby are really interesting and have paid some good dividends in the last few (preseason) games.”
They will have a boost on the bench in their opening match, with Waratah and Wallabies nine Nick Phipps named to return from a calf injury.
The Shute Shield kicks off on Saturday April 7, with Norths vs Warringah broadcast on 7MATE from 3pm AEST.