Eastern Suburbs’ support of country rugby continues with Saturday’s second edition of the Beach to Bush Regional Round in Orange, but just how that passionate commitment to growing the game started will surprise many.
It actually started a long time ago, with two sets of jerseys the Sydney club lent to the Mudgee Wombats.
Mudgee is one of the longest-standing clubs in Australia having been formed in 1874, and in the late 1970s the club’s original, plain, brown jerseys were stolen, rendering the club kit-less.
At the time Tom Sheridan had moved back to Mudgee to play and coach after a stint with Easts, he contacted the club and it happily donated two sets of red, white and blue jumpers, a tri-colour scheme the Wombats adopted and still boast to this day.
Easts president John Murray recalled a time several years ago when a die-hard Wombat thanked him on the sidelines at Warringah one afternoon, also admitting he “couldn’t believe that was our entire contribution to growing the game in the bush”.
”That’s when we really made the decision to move forward with this and try to take a game out to the area, this is now our way of thanking the central west, a region that has given us so many amazing players,” Murray said.
The Beasties return to the central west on Saturday after the “roaring success” of last year’s inaugural Beach to Bush Regional Round against Gordon.
This weekend is building on that further, with Easts set to face the Parramatta Two Blues in three grades – the Intrust Super Shute Shield, second grade and the women’s grade.
The Sydney clubs will face-off in conjunction with Orange Emus’ blockbuster Blowes Clothing Cup fourth round fixtures against Forbes, the top grade being a 2016 and 2017 grand final rematch.
“We’re really excited, all the logistics have been locked in now and it’s all very exciting,” Murray said.
“We try and tell every club that they should do this. It’s good for the clubs, and it’s an opportunity to actually do something for rugby union outside of your own postcode and the sport needs that, it needs people to actively help the game.
“And it certainly isn’t a chore, it’s an absolute pleasure. We love coming to Orange, without Orange City Council this wouldn’t happen, and we’d love to see some other clubs go to Bathurst or Dubbo, or of course Mudgee.”
Easts return to Wade Park this weekend in a very different situation to last year. In 2017 the Beasties had won just one game from six starts, this year they’re three from four and sitting third.
“They’re going along really well, hopefully that continues against Parramatta,” Murray said, the Two Blues are 10th with just one win.
“It won’t be easy though, they’re trying to build into their season so we’re expecting a tough battle.”
This year’s edition also gives the likes of Orange products Jack Grant, Cody Walker and Ned Yeomans a chance to return, along with Bathurst’s Charlie Clifton. And that’s just in the top grade.
“We have a lot of other guys from this area playing huge roles within our club, guys like (Bathurst’s) Luke Cullinane and (Orange’s) James and Dan Donato,” Murray said, although it’s unclear if they’ll be named in second grade yet.
There is one big change to this year’s edition though, instead of the Central West Rugby Union clubs’ top grades playing under lights at Wade Park after the televised Shute Shield game, it’ll be their under 17s taking the field.
That’s something both Murray and Emus president Steve Fergus are absolutely stoked about.
“All our first and second grade coaches are going to be there and there’ll be some kids in that fixture that will definitely come under their observation, and the Parramatta coaches’,” Murray said.
“It’s a double benefit because they get the chance to play under lights in front of, hopefully, a really big crowd and we’d also get a look at a few kids that could end up playing with the likes of Cody, Jack, Charlie and the other guys from this region.”
“Last year we had an under 17s game under lights at Endeavour Oval, and I think it was the game of the season,” Fergus said.