The win 25 years in the making: Two Blues' cultural shift paying dividends

It was a moment 24 years in the making, Western Sydney Two Blues ending what seemed a never-ending 42-game winless run against one of Shute Shield giants, Sydney University, on the famous Oval No. 2.

Leading by eight points with three minutes left on the clock, long suffering Two Blues supporters could be heard chanting and cheering in the stands, shocking the many Uni fans watching on. For the first time in a long time the Two Blues had something to cheer about.

While decades in the making, the win was even more significant given the Two Blues were almost shown the door last season. Several Shute Shield clubs had come together to urge the western Sydney club to merge with Penrith Emus and West Harbour, but the Two Blues remained defiant, insisting their proud history in the competition would not be eroded.

Having defeated defending champions, Gordon, a week earlier, the Two Blues' rise isn't simply a flash in the pan, and they plan to make an even bigger impression on the Shute Shield competition as the weeks go on. But new coach Sailosi Tagicakibau isn't getting ahead of himself either, simply happy the building blocks he's put in place are starting to produce results.

"I'd hate to jinx myself, but it's part of the whole process and the whole rebuild," Tagicakibau told ESPN. "It's not just the performance in first grade, we've been pretty competitive across the board building a full complement as a club with four grades and three colts teams and now the women's program starts this week.

"That's all part of what we're trying to do and trying to re-establish ourselves as a good quality working program in the west.

"It's been really, really positive so far and I think to get two good wins after a pretty tough start is awesome for our confidence going forward."

Signed from Gordon at the end of the cancelled 2021 season, Tagicakibau moved out west with a clear goal in mind and a personal connection with the issues plaguing the beleaguered club.

Having Grown up in south Auckland, the Two Blues coach witnessed the area face the same player drain issue the Two Blues have withered under for decades, and to help stem the flow he knew a cultural shift was needed alongside a mass coaching overhaul and big player signings.

Hitting the ground running, Tagicakibau was quick to make his moves after the 2021 season was cancelled. While many other coaches were taking a break and recalibrating, the Two Blues coach was already on the move, building his coaching staff and his player hit list.

Bringing in former Sydney Uni star Liam Winton as his assistant coach and elevating former Two Blues player and Tongan international Damien Fakafanua from second grade coach to firsts backs coach, Tagicakibau developed a strong coaching group he knew would entice players back to western Sydney, with each coach using their networks to undertake a massive player drive.

"First and foremost I knew we needed a good coaching group. I needed to go out and find good coaches that people trust and people knew but were also good people, we needed to make sure that we had the right people for the job and then we made sure to work within their networks.

"Liam's an old Penrith boy, he started his footy out there, still lives in the Blue Mountains, so he's been a massive inclusion to our coaching staff. And then off the back of that we knew there were a lot of good western Sydney boys out at Easts, Gordon, Norths -- all over the competition -- so we made sure to target those players and make sure they came back knowing that we had a job to do at the Two Blues and we wanted them to jump on board.

"It's been a big job but we knew we needed to capitalise on the big break at the end of last year's cancelled season. I was in recruitment mode as soon as I got the role and I made sure to get the process started well before a lot of other coaches. So I think timing was key and we're fortunate enough to be benefitting from it right now."

No club was safe with any former players or simply players based out west scattered across the competition targeted by the coaching group, while they also looked to New Zealand and returning players from Europe to create depth across their squads.

"We started targeting the guys that drive past us on the way out east. They were guys who hadn't played for Two Blues but live in the area, and we just showed that with the right coaches they could develop their footy," Tagicakibau said.

"We wanted to make sure that we had some top class players coming into the program and make sure we had the right players in key positions to be competitive, and then we just added a bit of depth with players from New Zealand and players returning to Australia from Europe."

A cultural shift was next on the agenda. After decades of blowout losses and financial struggles, creating a positive culture was important for Tagicakibau and his coaching staff.

A preseason camp to the Blue Mountains was instigated, while new and returning grade players ran junior training sessions and the new facilities at the redeveloped Eric Tweedale Stadium had players across the west champing at the bit to hit the pitch.

"This is part of a long process, this is our first year since all these new signings and people are really deciding to buy in," Tagicakibau told ESPN. "The culture was a big part of it and making sure that we had an environment that people wanted to come to and they wanted to develop their rugby knowledge, but also its somewhere that they felt included, somewhere that they enjoyed and they could relate to.

"There is a unique culture in every club, it's different wherever you go and we want to make sure ours is quite unique as well.

"It is about the grassroots, making sure that they enjoy it and there's a comfortable environment where they feel safe, that they feel a part of and it just comes back to those family values and making sure that we are one of those clubs that we can be pretty inclusive of everyone.

"There's a bit of a different demographic in the west, and over the last couple of years it's been a pretty tough place to go and play your footy and hence why a lot of players have left. So we had to look for opportunities and now it's being able to create the right environment, people starting to enjoy themselves and we're starting to win footy matches which is helping the process along."

In one of the most open Shute Shield seasons in close to a decade, which has seen every team win at least two games while no side is undefeated after five rounds, the Two Blues will be taking every opportunity to make an impression in their first year of the rebuild.

"Every game is a cup final for us and we're coming from the bottom last year, and I'm hoping we can really ask some questions of other big teams. There's no easy game so we've got a pretty decent squad to make sure that we're going to be competitive.

"It's still a long season, but I'm pretty excited with where we're going and I think people are going to start waking up now."