Club Corner: 2021 Season Preview

Wed, 07/04/2021, 09:12 pm
Nick Wasiliev
by Nick Wasiliev
It's all systems go for club rugby in 2021! Photo: Brendan Hertel

There is a rumbling in the air, across the nation. From the shores of the Swan River, right across the Nullarbor to the Eastern States and city of lights. Club footy is officially back, and set to rumble in 2021! 

With nearly every club competition kicking off this week or in the following couple of weeks, we take the opportunity to discuss our thoughts on the upcoming season of footy, and what you should be looking out for in each competition in 2021. 

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Hospital Challenge Cup Season Launch

BRISBANE - QUEENSLAND PREMIER GRADE

One of many club competitions kicking off on April 10, it's fair to say the Queensland competition is looking like a belter. Even before we get the footy, the news that games will be streamed on Stan Sport was welcomed enormously by the Queensland rugby public, and with Easts winning the Australian Club Championship in a close fought match against Shute Shield winners Gordon, it is fair to say things are starting to  look a lot brighter for Brisbane club rugby.

Last year saw several teams play exceptional rugby and challenge for the title, with usual suspects University of Queensland going down in the grand final to Easts. Bond University, GPS and Brothers all enjoyed positive seasons as well, and especially considering many other clubs (notably Sunnybank), were able to pull off several upsets against the competition heavyweights suggests we are primed for a more fascinating and unpredictable season in 2021. 

All eyes will be on Easts to go back-to-back for the first time ever in their over seventy year history. With the likes of club legends Aidan Toua stepping back, as well as the likes of club stalwarts like Seru Uru being a run on selection for the Reds, the depth of the club is likely to be tested. 

Should they struggle, so many clubs are going to put their hands up for contention, and none more so than the most decorated club in Brisbane Rugby, UQ. The Red Heavies have been making a habit of featuring in the finals over the last few years, but after them the likes of GPS and Brothers also have the cattle to claim the silverware. 

Charter Hall Shute Shield Launch

SYDNEY - SHUTE SHIELD 

2021 was a groundbreaking year for the Shute Shield. With the truncated season, the competition welcomed back the Penrith Emus and Hunter Wildfires, with the men from Newcastle leaving the largest impression, a solid effort given the very short turnaround regarding their inclusion.

Gordon snapped a twenty-two year streak by beating Eastwood in the grand final, sending Darren Coleman out on a high after several years as coach. While the Highlanders will likely retain a lot of their squad for this season, it all depends on how they can adapt with Coleman no longer there. After Gordon, only six points separated Eastern Suburbs, Norths, Sydney University, Eastwood and Randwick, and many of those teams are more than capable of grabbing the prized Shield. 

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Outside of major contenders for the top prize, the other teams to take note of this year also comes in the form of the Wildfires, West Harbour and the Western Sydney Two Blues. 

Hunter were given a tough roll of the dice in 2020, being given only limited time for preparation in comparison to the other clubs. The fact they still pulled off a couple of wins showed there was great potential for the club to do well in the future, and with their future in the competition secure for the foreseeable future, now is the opportunity for them to enact that potential. 

The Pirates and the Two Blues meanwhile also find themselves in very similar positions, with the top grades struggling at the higher levels over the last few seasons, both are set and are due for a year of improvement. Western Sydney is also set to make Eric Tweedale Stadium their home during the season, while West Harbour will continue to make Drummoyne Oval their home as Concord Oval continues its redevelopment.

It is interesting to note that both have been heavily recruiting, with both sides picking up several players from the Drummoyne Dirty Reds, who won the 2020 Kentwell Cup. Hopefully this can lead to more success in Sydney's west. 

The John I Dent Cup is set to kick off on April 17th.
The John I Dent Cup is set to kick off on April 17th.

CANBERRA - JOHN I DENT CUP

Of all the club competitions last year, few tournaments were as hotly contested as the John I Dent Cup. The quality of rugby in the national capital was something to behold in 2020, with a traffic jam between first and fifth making the finals the most hotly contested in many years.

It is surprising somewhat that despite this, since 2011 the Cup has been won only by two sides in Tuggeranong Vikings and the Canberra Royals, but if likes of the Owls, Eagles and Wests continue to put on the performances we saw in 2020, it is a matter of not if someone else takes the silverware, but when. 

With round one kicking off on April 17th, the Royals will come into the competition as back-to-back winners, but will definitely have a target on their back, as they knocked off both Uni-Norths in the semi-final and the Gungahlin Eagles in the grand final. Both teams were the big improvers in 2020, and will be hungry to get revenge against any heavyweight teams in the competition. 

The Eagles will be looking to win their first Cup since 2003, but Uni-Norths will be looking for their first Cup ever since merging in 2001. Their last premiership dates back to 1972 (won as Northern Suburbs), and with it set to mark fifty years next year, it’s clear the Owls are due, big time. 

Even the likes of the Queanbeyan Whites (the last team other than the Royals or Vikings to win the Cup), have the potential to cause a lot of headaches. What is certain is that this season is set to be an absolute beauty for footy lovers in the nation’s capital.

The Dewar Shield is finally set to return in 2021. Photo: Victoria Rugby
The Dewar Shield is finally set to return in 2021. Photo: Victoria Rugby

MELBOURNE - DEWAR SHIELD

In 2020, there was a massive Dewar Shield-sized hole in the rugby landscape, as the COVID pandemic hit Victoria the hardest, forcing all local club competitions to be cancelled for the year. Fortunately, 2021 will see the competition finally return, and it couldn’t be at a better time. 

Round one is set for kick-off on April 17th, with the Melbourne Unicorns entering the competition as 2019’s premiers. Given the disruption of last year however, it’ll be interesting to see if the likes of Harlequins and Box Hill will continue to challenge for the Shield, or if the other clubs will put their hands up to challenge them.

All of this will depend heavily on how each respective team will bounce back. It is a clean slate for 2021 in Victoria, which makes the prospect of surprises around rugby even more exciting. 

PERTH - FORTESCUE PREMIER GRADE

Meanwhile, on the shores of the Swan River, April 10 sees the kick-off of the FMG Premier Grade. The 2020 season of the WA comp was an interesting one, which saw a clear gap between the teams at the top of the ladder and those at the bottom. While the results varied wildly throughout the year, that saw little impact on the quality of some of the games exhibited.

Wests-Scarborough, Nedlands and Joondalup were notable teams that enjoyed positive seasons, but in the end it was clear the competition was a two-way race between 2019’s winners Cottesloe and competition heavyweights Associates, with the grand final seeing the Gulls going back-to-back in an absolute thriller, 22-21.

This year looks to be an especially interesting year for rugby in the West, off the back of the confirmed return of the Force to Super Rugby. The Gulls will look to continue to be the benchmark for the competition, and while Associates will be the natural challengers, it’ll be interesting to see if the likes of the chasing pack can make up ground.

Many other teams in the competition, including Wanneroo and Perth Bayswater, looked to also suffer from inconsistency. However, if one of these teams were to start to string some wins together, it also has the potential to open the competition up enormously. 

The Southern Lions in action in the Fortescue Premier Grade
The Southern Lions in action in the Fortescue Premier Grade

ADELAIDE - COOPERS PREMIER GRADE

A competition that is increasingly turning heads, the Coopers Premier Grade also returns on April 10. The quality of rugby has been improving considerably in the garden city over the last few years, and with nearly nine thousand confirmed rugby participants, there is hope the competition can continue to grow and improve. 

Last year’s competition, in a similar fashion to WA, saw a clear gap open up between the top of the table clubs in Onkaparinga, Burnside, Old Collegians and Brighton. Brighton reclaimed the silverware with a big win over the Red Devils, their third premiership in the last four years. 

The likes of Woodville and Adelaide University did have some encouraging performances over the last year, however it is likely the trophy will still remain a four way race. It does make for an interesting prospect, as the games between each of these four sides produced some of the most exciting club rugby we saw last year. 

The Tasmanian A Grade Division is set to kick off near the end of April, while the Darwin A Grade Division finished two weeks ago, with the South Darwin Rabbitohs claiming a 15-14 wins over the Casuarina Cougars. 

We hope you enjoy the upcoming season of club rugby!

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