As we approach the halfway stage of the 2021 Charter Hall Shute Shield season, it seems a hotly contested Finals race is on the horizon.
Currently, only two-points separate our third and sixth placed Clubs, Easts and Warringah, with a trio of teams sitting tight on their tails.
At the top, both Norths and Sydney Uni firm into early premiership favouritism, with the two Club rugby juggernauts easily accounting for much of their competition to date.
In preparation for the second half of the season, we’ve previewed what we think are the biggest matchups in the run to the 2021 Charter Hall Shute Shield Finals.
Round Twelve – Souths v West Harbour
For two teams desperately looking to earn a Finals birth in 2021, this matchup proves crucial in gaining early momentum following the long weekend.
Souths season so far is a story well told, with four losses of a combined total of 13-points characterising a season of near misses.
The Rebels will take comfort in knowing they can match it with the competitions best but need to swiftly find their killer instinct as they approach the run home.
The Pirates find themselves in a similar situation, with Mark Gudmunson’s men needing to knock off the likes of Easts and the Woodies over the final stretch.
West Harbour currently sit two-wins off Warringah in sixth, meaning fixtures against similarly rated sides like Southern Districts are must wins.
The two sides last met in the final round of the 2020 season, with the Rebels and Pirates inseparable in a 45-45 thriller.
With both sides needing to make ground on the top six, this Round Twelve clash proves pivotal to any Finals aspirations.
Round Thirteen – Norths v Sydney Uni
There is no disputing that two teams currently sit a touch above the rest of the competition, however, we must wait until Round Thirteen to see Norths and the Students clash.
Norths will welcome the Students under the lights of North Sydney Oval, looking to find a chink in the so far impenetrable Uni armour.
The Students have amassed a bonus-point in every victory to date, with a combined differential of 268-points through nine rounds.
A key component of this attacking success has been their rolling maul, with hooker Declan Moore currently leading the try scoring tally by six.
Norths had been on a similarly strong run until a narrow two-point loss to Easts last Saturday.
Despite the loss, the Shoremen certainly hold bold ambitions for 2021, with their mix of seasoned leadership and exciting young talent preparing them for a serious run at the Finals.
With both Norths and the Students certain to secure a high Finals position, this Round Thirteen clash is a destined post-season preview.
Round Fourteen - Eastwood v Gordon
The fixture Gods smile upon us in 2021, as last season’s Grand Finalists prepare to face each other for the second time this year in Round Fourteen.
Eastwood secured a slither of Grand Final redemption last Saturday, with a 20-12 victory in front of the loyal Stag army.
However, with Gordon again beginning to find confidence following the extended absence of James Lough, Reece MacDonald and other Grand Final heroes, you can be sure the Stags will be the best version of themselves come July 17.
With Gordon and Eastwood likely to be contesting for positions within the top four, taking points away from their newfound rivals will be all important.
Round Fifteen – Norths v Eastern Suburbs
In one of the games of the season so far, Easts secured a nail-biting 31-29 victory over a previously undefeated Norths side, thanks to penalty try in the 83rd-minute.
It was an incredibly important win for the Beasties, who prior to this had been stuck in some relatively inconsistent form in 2021.
After losses to both Eastwood and Sydney Uni over the opening six rounds, questions arose as to the Beasties credentials against the Shute Shield’s best.
However, any questions were erased at Woollahra Oval last Saturday, with Easts breaking through the Shoremen’s considerable competition momentum to claw back a 14-point deficit on route to victory.
With Easts facing just two other top six Clubs prior to Round Fifteen, a second win against Norths would cement the Beasties into genuine Premiership contention.
Round Sixteen – Warringah v Southern Districts
Based on early season form, the likes of Warringah, Southern Districts and Randwick may be fighting it out for the lower Finals positions.
With that in mind, a Round Sixteen clash between the Rats and Souths could be the catalyst for a late surge towards Finals rugby.
The Rebels got the better of their Northern Beaches opponents in Round Three, holding on at Forshaw Rugby Park for a 31-25 victory.
But the tables turn in Round Sixteen, with the Rats welcoming them to fortress Pittwater, where the Rats remain undefeated since Round Seven of 2020.
Who was the last Club to beat Warringah at Pittwater Rugby Park? You guessed it – Southern Districts, courtesy of a 39-38 thriller.
Can the Rats return to Shute Shield Finals in 2021? Points against the Rebels in this fixture will certainly help their cause.
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