One of the Shute Shield’s most competitive rivalries will be enjoyed once more this Sunday afternoon, as Sydney University prepare to face Eastwood at Pittwater Rugby Park.
It’s the first of a preliminary finals double-header this weekend, with Northern Suburbs and Gordon to also face off at Rat Park to determine which two Shute Shield clubs progress to the competition’s first Grand Final since 2020.
Sunday afternoon's preliminary final will be the third time that Sydney Uni and the Woodies have clashed this season. Fittingly, it’s all square between the sides in 2022, with Uni prevailing in Round Ten before Eastwood returned the favour in Round Sixteen.
Sydney University skipper, Jack McCalman, says the group is relishing another opportunity against the old foe.
“When you play for Sydney University, you always pencil in matches against Eastwood,” he said.
“We always know what we’re going to get when we face them. They’re a relentless side that will no doubt challenge us for the full 80-minutes.
“We love the opportunity to defeat a rival, but for us, it’s about trying to park those thoughts of history and rivalry and just turn up in the best shape we can.
“There won’t be any love lost on Sunday and we can’t wait.”
Uni enter the preliminary final on the back of a hard-fought 31-29 victory over Randwick a fortnight ago.
Having not finished in a top four position, Eastwood has taken the alternative route toward the prelims, with consecutive finals victories against Easts and Manly booking their spot in this Sunday’s clash.
McCalman says the week off has allowed his group to relax after what has been a gruelling 2022 season.
“I think mentally, the group has really enjoyed the break,” he said.
“Obviously having not played a semi-final has allowed the bodies to freshen up after what has been a long and demanding season.
“It’s also allowed us to fully dissect that game against Randwick and hone our focus on what needs addressing ahead of Sunday.
“On the back of that, our focus has been on tightening up our defence and restricting points. The team with the strongest defensive line will likely win these finals fixtures, so that’s been key.”
Barring 2017, Eastwood and Sydney University have either featured or opposed in every Shute Shield Grand Final since 1999.
That amazing record is set to continue this season, but what remains less clear is which of the two clubs will be preparing for yet another Shute Shield Grand Final.
Having been at the Club since graduating high school in 2013, McCalman appreciates the long-standing success that each of our Grand Final hopefuls has enjoyed.
The Students skipper says leading his club toward another trophy opportunity has always been a dream.
“I’ve built through the ranks from Colts to Grade since leaving school, so it would be really satisfying to now lead the highest grade into a Grand Final week,” he said.
“This season has demanded so much energy. Particularly being the leader of a young group, I’ve really tried to amp up that energy this season and into finals.
“I’ve never experienced such a competitive Shute Shield competition. Being able to finish such a tight year in the Grand Final would be incredibly special.”
Grab your tickets to this Sunday’s Preliminary Finals here.
Sydney University v Eastwood – Pittwater Rugby Park, Sunday 1:20pm
Northern Suburbs v Gordon – Pittwater Rugby Park, Sunday 3:40pm