Shute Shield Rugby Grand Final 2017 at North Sydney Oval. Norths V Warringah. Won by Warringah. Saturday 26th August 2017. Photo by James Brickwood. SHD Sport 170826. Rugby Union. Sydney 26Aug17:North sydney Oval and the minor Rugby UNION GRAND FINALS. Adama Grace, 7.Photo Michele Mossop REWORKED ?? ?? … SHute?? Shute Shield Rugby Grand Final 2017 at North Sydney Oval.
MATCH REPORT: Warringah Rats 30 Northern Suburbs 25
It’s tough for Australian rugby at the moment. You wouldn’t have known it at North Sydney Oval on Saturday afternoon.
Close to 16,000 fans – more than watched the Wallabies see out Fiji a few months back – were in attendance as the Warringah Rats beat Northern Suburbs in the 2017 Shute Shield final.
Though for supporters, friends and families present, the trip to the local footy was about a lot more than just results.
Among the rows of the oval’s ageing benches people chatted away as kids of all ages ran around on the paddock, kicking the footy in between grades.
Two of the revellers, Michelle and Jennifer Williams, said there is something a bit different about the club game – describing the grand final as a reunion of sorts, given how often people run into others they know.
“We probably go to a lot more club games [than professional matches] at the moment,” Jennifer said. “Look at the crowd today. You’re not going to get this kind of atmosphere at a Waratahs game. It’s just more local. There’s a bit more heart in club rugby at the moment than in the professional level,” Michelle said. “I’m sure the people playing at the top have heart – but you can just feel it more here.”
The crowd was representative of the competition, not just those competing for top honours – though the Rats and Norths supporter bases were in full swing.
Warringah Rats captain Hamish Angus said he’s seen crowds grow in recent years. “The tunnels pre-game, the crowd running on after, the hill packed – it just makes for a really exciting day,” he said. “As a group it’s exciting playing in front of big crowds. I think any athlete wants to do that – showcase their sport on the biggest stage.”
He said the Rats have made engagement with the local community a focal point of the club’s efforts in a bid to grow the sport.
“The way funding is at the moment, [Clubs have] got no choice but to engage as many spectators as they can to try and get them coming to more games and enjoying themselves.” he said.
For every catch-up and calling of plays gone by, there was another key conversation going on around the paddock – on the state of the game.
James Thompson was one of many punters keen to share an opinion on how the game is being handled at the professional level. “[Club rugby] is passionate. People are committed to their club. It’s grassroots.” he said. “There are real fans here – there’s an atmosphere.”
“I’m not an expert administrator, I don’t know what it is that [clubs] have done differently [to the professional game], but they’re obviously getting it right.”
For those at the top of clubs that make up this competition, it’s no surprise support is rising at club level while the international game struggles.
Randwick President Bob Dwyer believes club rugby has and always has had what is missing at the top, but that the administrators will never work it out.
“To be quite honest with the administration with the ARU and to a lesser extent the Super Rugby teams – they don’t want to pay any attention to us,” the former World Cup-winning Wallabies coach said. “We’ve lost interest in whatever makes them tick because our perception from the outside is that what makes them tick doesn’t have anything to do with rugby.”
Dwyer pointed to the massive volunteer support clubs rely on, something he believes those who have come through the game feel obliged to offer, paying back the opportunities they were given as they grew up.
“The administrators don’t understand it – if [rugby] is not in your heart, you’re never going to be able to understand it,” he said.