Norths vs. Uni: Shute Shield in Bowral promises boost for bush rugby

Shute Shield Getty Images

Last year's Intrust Shute Shield grand final between Northern Suburbs and Sydney University was seen as a shining light for club rugby in somewhat dim times for the code in Australia; and not only because Norths joined the memorable list of sporting teams throughout the world that broke a long premiership drought -- ending their own 41 years of pain -- in front of a euphoric crowd packed into North Sydney Oval.

This memorable clash showed once more that the club scene is where the Australian fans get to show their true allegiances -- that their real passion for the game is seated in their love of their club. The passion the Norths fans felt literally poured onto the field as the Shoremen crossed for the final try.

This weekend the clubs meet for the first time since that 28-15 classic, and they're taking the Round 4 grand final "replay" to Bowral's Eridge Park.

Sydney University coach Tim Davidson told ESPN that the decision to take the game to Bowral was a good initial step in gaining greater exposure for the game in the bush.

"Club rugby has lost a lot of its media coverage, with the results not even making it into the regional papers these days; the game is not reaching the fans in remote areas," he said.

"It's great to be supporting the Bowral Blacks, and hopefully it is something we can build on in the future. We have a number of players from the bush, so it's great for them and hopefully a huge boost for the community itself."

Davidson is passionate about the importance of country rugby, which he sees as the game played in its purest form.

"I think it is extremely vital," he said. "The reasons they play the game in the bush are the right reasons; there's no money involved, you come together to represent your community, you travel long distances and you sacrifice your time.

"Wherever you travel in the country, the opposition players always say, 'if you're coming through Wagga or if you're coming through Orange or wherever, you've always got a place to stay'.

"The real reason you play the game is the values and the people you meet, and that's really entrenched in the bush because there is no money involved. If that is ever lost, then I think we're on the slippery slope out."

Former Norths, Waratahs, Western Force and Australia representative Cameron Shepherd will be commentating during 7TWO's live telecast of the match and is excited about the move to Bowral.

"Bowral is a beautiful town and has a huge rugby community," Shepherd told ESPN. "I'm sure a big crowd will turn out to watch some of NSW rugby union's best players in action.

"The 2016 Intrust Super Shute Shield Grand Final was played in front of just under 11,000 people and was one of the best finals in recent history. These two teams have a fierce rivalry and proud history, and I have no doubt this weekend's game will be played with similar intensity."

Norths are undefeated at the top of the 2017 Shute Shield table, and playing as well as they were when they claimed last year's title. The Students will be looking to find some form after what has been a sluggish start to their 2017 campaign, winning only one of their first three.

It promises to be a game worthy of being a showcase event and part of the growing push to nurture the grassroots of the game.

LIVE Saturday 3pm on 7TWO in New South Wales only. Early Sunday morning replay in Queensland on 7TWO.