Wallabies dream driving Hardwick in Dewar Shield decider

by Sam Phillips

A whiff of second year syndrome is driving Richard Hardwick's run at Dewar Shield glory, declaring Saturday's grand final as a platform for a "statement game".

Hardwick's Harlequins will face the might of Melbourne as they strive for back-to-back titles at RHL Sparks Reserve, the latest chance for Hardwick to show his wares after a year he'd rather forget.

Injuries have hampered the progress of the star Melbourne flanker, having made his Wallabies debut in 2017 - just rewards for a breakout Super Rugby season with the Force.

Finishing the Dewar Shield in style before kicking onto an NRC campaign with the Rising is all Hardwick has in mind, not dwelling on what could have been in 2018.

"To be part of that Wallabies squad last year was amazing - it was a dream come true," Hardwick told RUGBY.com.au.

"I knew I wasn't going to be there this year with my injuries this year tand here was always going to be someone working hard, trying to get into that position.

"Unfortunately injuries have set me back a little bit but just knowing I am doing everything I can to get back into that squad.

"I'm always talking to Cheik about what I need to improve on, what I can get better at - I want to show him that I'm back."

Hardwick showed exactly what he was capable of in the Wallabies trial, starring for the Super Selection XV.

Another game of that standard for Harlequins followed by similar form through the NRC will have him primed for a recall the moment the opportunity arises.

"That was probably one of the better games I've played this year in terms of just having a crack, playing my footy and it was a real confidence booster," Hardwick said.

"It was assuring to know I can still play at that high level and now it's just about getting back into that squad.

"I've got a pretty big game and a big statement to make on Saturday night and we will play that before going into the NRC program.

"That will be a big opportunity for me to put my hand up week in, week out and just show everyone that I'm back and ready to keep fighting."

Richard Hardwick will be in Australian rugby in 2018. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyHaving stunned Melbourne in the major semi final a fortnight ago, Hardwick's side have a mental edge over their opponents on Saturday.

The 24-year-old said his team will take that advantage and run with it as they strive for their fifth title since the turn of the decade.

"I think you have to be confident going into a game like this," he said.

"We didn't have a great deal of success during the regular season but we took a great deal of confidence from that first semi final.

"Everyone was focused on the job and we understand we just need to play how we have through the season.

"That is what got us here and if we play like we know we can we're going to be very tough to stop."

The Dewar Shield grand final kicks off on Saturday August 18 at 3pm AEST, STREAMED LIVE on the Rugby Victoria Facebook page.