Shute Shield Round 14: Six things to watch

With five rounds remaining, the race towards this year’s finals is well and truly alive with a number of season defining matches to be played this weekend.

Out of form Woodies return home

A few weeks ago, Eastwood were sitting pretty in second spot but after back-to-back losses to Southern Districts and West Harbour, the spotlight is back on the Woodies heading into Saturday’s clash against Randwick. The 2015 premiers play four of their last five matches at home in front of the TG Millner faithful, but they’ll need to improve, particularly in defence, after leaking 86 points in the past fortnight.

Randwick fought back late against Warringah in round 13 but fell one point short and have lost Reece Robinson for the remainder of the season through injury.

North v South

Northern Suburbs will head south across the Harbour Bridge in search of just their second win in eight weeks and they’ll have to do so without a handful of stars with Cam Clark, Bryce Hegarty and Angus Ta’avao returning to the Waratahs and Hugh Sinclair re-joining the Rebels this weekend.

While six losses from seven matches doesn’t look great, five of those defeats have been by seven points or less and while it won’t take much for the Shoreman to rediscover their 2016 form, they’ll need to do so sooner rather than later or risk missing the playoffs all together.

Keep an eye out for former Bristol fullback Augey Slowik in his run on first grade debut at fullback.

Which West Harbour side will show up?

The Pirates really are just like a box of chocolates. At their best, West Harbour are good enough to play finals footy but for some reason, they seem to struggle in matches that you’d expect them to win. Based on wins over Sydney Uni and Eastwood, the Pirates should be tough to beat on Saturday but you really never know.

Gordon are five points ahead of Wests in eighth spot and two wins outside of the top six, making Saturday’s clash a must win for both sides.

Are the Students the real deal?

Sitting in seventh spot, it’s hard to tell if Sydney Uni are struggling or if they’ve timed their run towards the finals perfectly but we should have a better idea by Saturday night.

Uni face Manly this week, ahead of matches against Warringah and Eastwood and will need to win at least two games against sides above them on the ladder to be any hope of playing finals footy.

Battle of the west 

2017 certainly hasn’t panned out how Penrith or Parramatta would have liked but there is still plenty to play for this weekend when the two sides meet at Nepean.

Still searching for their first win of the year, Penrith let a 15 point lead slip in a 36-30 loss to Gordon last weekend but the Emus are playing their best rugby of the year heading into the local derby. While Penrith have shown great signs of improvement in 2017, a win on Saturday will be a huge boost for the club on and off the field.

80 minute Beasties

Easts have played some of the best rugby of any side this year but they just can’t seem to do it for 80 minutes. The Beasties gave competition leaders Manly a real scare on Ladies Day last weekend and welcome back flyhalf Mack Mason for Saturday’s clash against Warringah.

The Rats scored 17 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes to steal a 27-27 draw when the two sides met back in round nine and while they may have jumped to second spot after last weekend’s win over Randwick, Warringah fans will be nervous heading into Saturday’s clash.