Shute Shield tapped into something country rugby had all along

Simon Douch Roar Pro

By , Simon Douch is a Roar Pro

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    There is something indescribably great about country rugby. The passion of the players in a local derby, the commitment from the volunteers that keep things running smoothly, the true sense of community after the game.

    Whatever it is, it separates our beloved sport from others and is a model for how the game should be played.

    Despite the game’s recent perils, country rugby has been a shining light.

    I’m from a small country town near-ish Yass – or just a bit of a trundle down the Hume and you’ll get there eventually.

    I played from under 10s, debuting for the mighty Emus, then playing with the Yabbies until seniors. Unfortunately, I’ve had to make a coastal change in recent years, but I’ll continue to make the effort to get back for a game with my beloved Yabbies.

    Why?

    Well firstly, it’s the basis for why we all play and watch sport – enjoyment. Gearing up for your club on a Saturday morning, sussing out the opposition and, if you’re lucky, recording a hard-fought win are fantastic feelings.

    Secondly, the pride I have when donning the green and white of the Yabbies is unparalleled. This sense of tribalism and pride is something that the Shute Shield has expertly tapped into, resulting in a bumper season with large crowds.

    15,000 people witnessed Warringah break their premiership drought in the culmination of the 2017 competition and there was that tribalism feeling from both players and spectators which has been lacking in Super Rugby and Wallabies fixtures.

    The great thing about loyalty is, once you’ve got it, it’s really hard to lose. Unfortunately, our national and Super Rugby sides have lost that loyalty and pride of their fans.

    The secret to the successes of the Shute Shield is hard to attribute to one thing, but when the ARU cut funding to the clubs a few years ago, only the most passionate, dedicated fans and volunteers stood up – just like in the country.

    Country rugby can only survive with the commitment of volunteers, as well as a mutual appreciation from the players, and this is where the Shute Shield really succeeded.

    Actively engaging with the community, letting the fans rush the field after a game to be with their team ensure a passionate, enthusiastic fanbase. It’s a relationship based on mutual benefits – the players are encouraged and perform, and the spectators get to watch the game played at an expert level.

    The Perth Spirit in the NRC has the right idea. The defending premiers have the ‘fill the hill’ initiative, trying to encourage large crowds with free entry. I daresay, especially on the back of the ARU’s infamous decision last month, that this essential sense of tribalism is building out west.

    The Wallabies have some outstanding initiatives with young players as well as the broader community, but there is a sense of connection with club rugby players, a more personal thing, which the Aussie squad can’t replicate.

    The success of the Shute Shield season is proof the game has a future in Australia and that grassroots is the starting point to ensure successes on the international stage.

    I have witnessed, firsthand, the passion and commitment to the game at a local level. Imagine swapping Mad Monday antics for a club working bee to renovate the club house? The Yabbies did it. Imagine driving six hours home after playing three grades of rugby due to player numbers? The Yabbies did it. Imagine the entire town get behind the under 16s, the only team to reach the grand final?

    Country rugby has the essential ingredients the national game needs. Luckily, the Shute Shield clubs took notice. Will the others?