2018 Shute Shield: 8 key early round clashes

With the start of the Shute Shield just around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at a few key match ups in the early rounds that should give us an insight into which sides are contenders and which sides are pretenders.

Round 1: Northern Suburbs v Warringah

A grand final rematch in round one, it doesn’t get much better than that. Norths fans will get their first look at the Shannon Fraser coached Shoreman on home soil against the defending premiers, who will need to get through an Australian Club Championship match against UQ first. Will the Rats suffer from a premiership hangover and how will Norths fare without Simon Cron? Only time will tell.

Round 1: Eastern Suburbs v West Harbour

Two of the competition’s dark horses also face off in round one. West Harbour finished 2017 with a bang and although the Pirates fell just short of the finals, they’ll take plenty of confidence into 2018 on the back of a full preseason under coach Todd Louden. After a disastrous 2018 season, Easts will finally return to Woollahra Oval and play the first ever Shute Shield match on a synthetic pitch against Wests. We should know a lot more about these two sides after their first round clash.

Round 3: Southern Districts v Manly

Souths and Manly have unfinished business after their 2017 Shute Shield campaigns ended abruptly and on a sour note. Both sides have retained the majority of their squads from last season and will both look to build early season confidence with a win in round three.

Round 4: Sydney Uni v Norths (Bowral)

The Students have invited Norths south again to play their round four clash at Eridge Park in Bowral. After playing last year’s match in torrential rain, both sides will be hoping for dry conditions and an opportunity to showcase their expansive styles to the Southern Highlands crowd. A Tim Davidson and Tom Carter-less Uni side will have a fresh feel in 2018 and they’ll get a chance to prove themselves against the 2017 grand finalists in round four.

Round 5: Randwick v Eastwood

By round five, new Randwick coach Owen Finegan should have the Galloping Greens firing ahead of their clash against an experienced Eastwood outfit. The Woodies will welcome back flyhalf Jai Ayoub from injury, while halfback Mick Snowden has also returned after a stint with the Melbourne Rebels. Will the speed and fitness of Finegan’s young Randwick side outlast the experienced and talented Eastwood outfit?

Round 5: Warringah v Southern Districts

Southern Districts sent a warning to the rest of the competition when they easily defeated Warringah in round 17 last year, but it was that loss that sparked the Rats premiership run. The Rebels cross Sydney to face Warringah in round five and if the sun is out, fans can expect plenty of points at Rat Park.

Round 6: Parramatta v Penrith

Neither Parramatta or Penrith were happy with their 2017 seasons and they’ll get a chance to show the improvement they’ve made over summer when they meet in the battle of western Sydney in round six.

Round 6: Eastern Suburbs v Parramatta (Orange)

Easts will head west over the Blue Mountains to beautiful Orange for the second straight year and play Parramatta at Wade Park in round six after a local derby between Orange Emus and Orange City. New Beasties coach Pauli Taumoepeau has inherited a relatively young squad, with plenty of first grade caps to their name. If Easts are to end their finals drought, they’ll need to be firing by their round six clash in the Central West.